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Can Fraudulent Writers Ever Be Redeemed?

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

Today’s feature story looks at how the awarding of this year’s $150,000 FIL literature prize to Peruvian Alfredo Bryce Echenique, an accused plagiarist, has divided writers and critics across Latin America. The issue is whether a writer’s canon comprising both fiction and journalism should be considered as a whole when under appraisal for a literary award, especially when the non-fiction is tainted by plagiarism.

James Frey became the poster boy for fraudulent writers, yet he still persists in having a career.

If Jonah Lehrer became a novelist — and a good one — would he be given that second chance? Jayson Blair certainly wasn’t. His novel Burning Down My Master’s House, itself a rather poor work of fiction, was published by a marginal press and trashed by the media. Some authors, such as James Frey, Nasdijj (aka Timothy Patrick Barrus), JT LeRoy (aka Laura Albert), or Asa Earl Carter (aka Forrest Carter), earned plenty of money and acclaim before they were largely banished from the literary limelight (though Frey, irrepressible as he is, still somehow continues to carry on writing and running his book packaging company Full Fathom Five). Others, such as Kaavya Viswanathan, author of  How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, and Q.R. Markham, author of Assassin of Secrets — novels that were themselves acts of plagiarism — were simply never ever heard from again.

So, the question is should, as is the case with Echenique, such writers ever be forgiven? Should they be forced into a kind of literary purgatory for awhile and tolerated so long as they remain on the fringes. Or should they simply be cast out into permanent exile from the literary world?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

BONUS: Hoaxes, Cones and Lies: A Literary Quiz

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  1. Posted November 7, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    In my experience (and I have had experiences with a number of plagiarists within academia and out of it) plagiarists always repeat. It may be a compulsion or a genuine disorder, like kleptomania (although the fact that plagiarists almost invariably profit from their “work” makes the analogy debatable), but nevertheless it casts doubt upon all publications ever produced by a plagiarist. And life’s too short for an awards committee to have to check rigorously for this sort of thing. Any instance of plagiarism, ever, should be automatic disqualification for any literary or academic reward. Ever.

  2. Posted November 7, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I think Bergmann makes some very good points. On the other hand, if I am not mistaken, Laura Ingalls Wilder plagiarized her first childish attempt at a book, then went on to write in her own voice. If someone like Lance Armstrong could receive prizes and then be stripped of them, surely the same will happen if Echenique is proven (down the road by a reader/readers who catch the plagiarism) to have stolen his words. He might have spent the $150,000 by then, of course.

  3. Luisa Navarro
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    “surely the same will happen if Echenique is proven (down the road by a reader/readers who catch the plagiarism) to have stolen his words.”
    He HAS been proven. Abundantly.

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