Milana Vujkov, Marketing Manager for The Gate and Picturehouse Central, introduces this week’s Discover Tuesdays title, Author: The JT LeRoy Story.
Director: Jeff Feuerzeig. USA 2016. 111 mins
Jeff Feuerzeig’s fascinating doc on the hoax that rocked the literary world early in the new millennium brought back memories. I heard about JT LeRoy then, and was intrigued instantly. He was an attention magnet: a teenage hustler, an abused child of a truck stop prostitute mother, possibly transgender, incredibly shy and well spoken with dulcet tones of the deepest South. He was, in fact, a walking, talking novel.
And indeed, he wrote novels, two of them by the time I heard about his life. Apparently he was also outrageously talented.
He inspired an ample celebrity following. And for someone cripplingly shy, JT (aka Jeremiah Terminator) got around quite a lot. He wore a blonde wig and dark glasses, hid under tables at public readings, and generally preferred communicating by phone. But still, he was out there hobnobbing and doing fashion shoots; nobody dwelt on the incongruence of it.
JT LeRoy seemed custom-made for the zeitgeist. He was followed throughout his travels by a middle-aged busybody minder figure, a woman who called herself Speedie and was generally disliked by JT’s celeb acolytes. Scandal broke out when an investigation by The New York Times revealed that it was Speedie, aka Laura Albert, who had created the persona of JT and was the writer of his novels. Her sister-in-law Savannah Knoop had been posing as the author in his physical form.
JT materialised through the sheer force of will of his creator. He was not formed in a safe, showbiz kind of way, with an ironic wink, but in a real hustler, desperate kind of way, as if the real author had nothing to lose by losing herself in the performance.
No one likes to be duped, and Albert was almost universally vilified for her actions.
However, Albert claims that JT LeRoy was not a hoax, but a form of therapy. When watching the doc I kept thinking that there was something incredibly heroic in her fight to be heard. What she pulled off was nothing new: artists have used alternative identities for centuries, just to hold the attention of their public for a breath more.
Albert is an artist, with a knack for promotion – and there was something incredibly authentic about her mask.
Albert continues to write. She seems serene, free.
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