JT LeRoy

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Sarah "signed" by JT LeRoy

Jeremiah "Terminator" LeRoy is a literary persona created by American writer Laura Albert. His author's bio states that LeRoy was born in 1980, first published at the age of sixteen, lives in San Francisco, and that he had also written articles and stories for Spin, Nerve, NY Press, The Stranger, and several anthologies under the name Terminator.[1] After his first novel Sarah was published, "LeRoy" started making public appearances. In a January 2006 article in The New York Times, LeRoy's agent, manager, movie producer, as well as several journalists, declared that the person acting as LeRoy in public was Savannah Knoop.

Published works[edit]

Albert originally published as Terminator and later JT LeRoy.[2]

By turns magical and realistic, the novel Sarah is narrated by a nameless boy whose mother Sarah is a lot lizard: a prostitute who works the truck stops in West Virginia. She can be abusive and abandoning, yet he longs for her love and tries to follow in her world, working for a pimp who specializes in "boy-girls."
Ten short stories that form a novel about the childhood of Jeremiah, torn from his foster parents at age four when his emotionally disturbed mother reclaims him and then runs away with him. She alternately clings to Jeremiah and abandons him, subjecting him to patterns of abuse and exploitation she has suffered throughout her life.
  • Harold's End (2005)[5]
The novella follows a young heroin addict who is befriended by Larry, an older man, from whom he receives an unusual pet. Illustrations are by Australian artist Cherry Hood. Published by Last Gasp.
A young boy lives with his mother and her boyfriend in a small trailer. When a new baby comes along, he must take care of it the best he can, drawing inspiration from a book about the labors of Hercules. This volume also features watercolor illustrations from Australian artist Cherry Hood.
Laura Albert in her study

Contributions to other written works[edit]

Laura Albert posing as the young boy "LeRoy" had work published in literary journals such as Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope: All-Story, McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Memorious, and Oxford American magazine's Seventh Annual Music Issue. LeRoy was listed as a contributing editor to BlackBook magazine, i-D and 7x7 magazines, and is credited with writing reviews all of which include the character Justin Wayne Dennis, articles and interviews for The New York Times, The Times of London, Spin, Film Comment, Filmmaker, Flaunt, Shout NY, Index Magazine, Interview, and Vogue, among others.

LeRoy's work has also appeared in such anthologies as The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003, MTV's Lit Riffs, XXX: 30 Porn-Star Portraits, Nadav Kander's Beauty's Nothing, and The Fourth Sex: Adolescent Extremes. LeRoy is also listed as guest editor for Da Capo's Best Music Writing 2005.[7]

Additionally, LeRoy was credited with liner notes and biographies for musicians Billy Corgan, Liz Phair, Conor Oberst, Ash, Bryan Adams, Marilyn Manson, Nancy Sinatra and Courtney Love and profiled award-winner Juergen Teller.


Gus Van Sant bought the film rights to Sarah and commissioned J.T. to write a screenplay about a school shooting that provided the seed for the 2003 film Elephant (for which J.T. received an associate-producer credit).[8]

LeRoy was credited as associate producer for the 2004 film adaptation of The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, directed by and starring Asia Argento. It was released in spring 2006.

In 2005 LeRoy was credited as a contributing scriptwriter for House of Boys (2009), a Luxembourgian-German drama film that depicts a love story set in Amsterdam in 1984, starring Layke Anderson, Stephen Fry and Udo Kier, and produced by Delux Productions.


Literary supporters[edit]

In 1994, "LeRoy,' in actuality Laura Albert impersonating a fifteen year old boy on the phone, got in touch with novelist Dennis Cooper by faxing a request through Cooper's agent, Ira Silverberg. "He" struck up a telephone friendship with Cooper, who introduced him to the writer Bruce Benderson, through whom he contacted novelist Joel Rose, writer Laurie Stone, editor Karen Rinaldi, and agent Henry Dunow. He also got in touch with poet Sharon Olds, Mary Karr and Mary Gaitskill, among others.

Celebrity supporters[edit]

In early 2001, Garbage singer Shirley Manson mentioned reading Sarah in her band's online journal.[9] Manson then received LeRoy's manuscript for The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things and they became friends. At the time, Manson was writing and recording the band's third album, beautifulgarbage, and wrote a song about LeRoy called "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)". Manson later referenced LeRoy and his friend Speedie in the title song from the band's fourth effort, Bleed Like Me.

Circumstances of JT LeRoy's Creation[edit]

As a teen, Laura Albert called suicide hotlines for help. She felt more comfortable speaking with strangers as a boy because of the sexual abuse and degradation she'd suffered that seemed, in her world, relatively common as a female. She found counselors to be sympathetic when she called as a male. Calling a suicide hotline in the 1990s, she reached Dr. Terrence Owens, a psychologist with the McAuley Adolescent Psychiatric Program at St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco.[10] Dr. Terrence Owens did not know her as Laura Albert at the time, but as Terminator. She explored this role in their conversations. Dr. Terrence Owens is credited with encouraging Terminator, who later became known as JT LeRoy, to write during their phone therapy sessions.[11] The writings that LeRoy shared with Dr. Owens eventually made their way into the collection of short stories in 1998.

Laura Albert explained the circumstances of JT's existence in a Fall 2006 Paris Review interview with Nathaniel Rich. She attested that she could not have written from raw emotion without the right to be presented to the world via JT LeRoy, whom she calls her "phantom limb." "I had survived sexual and physical abuse and found a way to turn it into art," she later wrote in The Forward. "Having struggled with issues of gender fluidity when there was no language for it, I created a character both on and off the page who modeled this as yet to be named state of being." [12]

Albert described LeRoy as an "avatar",[13] and said that she was able to write things as LeRoy that she could not have said as Laura Albert, comparing it to "the way an oyster creates a pearl: out of irritation and suffering. It was an attempt to try to heal something."[14] She later commented, "I had survived sexual and physical abuse and found a way to turn it into art [...] Having struggled with issues of gender fluidity when there was no language for it, I created a character both on and off the page who modeled this as yet to be named state of being."[15] Writing for The New York Times in 2016, Albert noted, "I meet a lot of young people and they're shocked that it was an issue to even have an avatar. Because they've grown up where you have multiple fully formed avatars."[16]


Throughout the 1990s, LeRoy rarely appeared in public. Then in 2001, a person claiming to be LeRoy began appearing in public, usually decked out in wig and sunglasses.

A friend, Steve O’Connor, said that he knew Laura Albert had written the books. Star photographer Mary Ellen Mark claimed that when she photographed Savannah Knoop for a Vainty Fair shoot she was certain that Savannah Knoop was a woman and recalled the costumed JT LeRoy persona as "a masquerade that a lot of fancy people fell for...A put-on that didn't harm anybody." [17]

Stephen Beachy published an article in 2005 to imply that Laura Albert wrote the stories,[18] and later the New York Times confirmed that JT LeRoy was the invention of Speedie/Emily, whose real name is Laura Albert. Vanity Fair also publicly announced that Laura Albert wrote all of J.T.’s books, articles, and stories, corresponded as J.T. by e-mail, and spoke as him on the phone.[19] Savannah Knoop stopped making public appearances as JT Leroy.

On January 6, 2006 JT LeRoy posted a blog entry titled "the hoax edition"[20] which cited an article in The Guardian that "identity is irrelevant." Also included were T-shirt prints which made light of the hoax, reading "I am the real JT LeRoy" and including an artistic image of the author's blonde wig and sunglasses. Also on the blog entry were promotional references to the film The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, DVD cover art and opening dates, and a Sundance Film Festival viewing.

As reported by Vanity Fair in 2006, J. T. LeRoy was the invention of Speedie/Emily, whose real name is Laura Albert. Now 40, she wrote all of J.T.’s books, articles, and stories, corresponded as J.T. by e-mail, and spoke as him on the phone, putting on a southern accent she thought was in accordance with J.T.’s supposed West Virginian origins. The high, feminine pitch was sometimes explained away as a result of J.T.’s not having fully matured physically due to the abuse he suffered. Her co-conspirators were Astor, whose real name is Geoffrey Knoop, 39, and his half-sister Savannah Knoop, a 25-year-old aspiring clothes designer who, once J.T.’s career took off, was drafted to play the writer in public—the wigs-and-sunglasses figure."[8] The November 29, 2007 Rolling Stone (#1040) featured an article about JT LeRoy by Guy Lawson in which it was stated that the guitarist Billy Corgan had been privy to what Albert was doing since 2002 and that this felt to him "... like being inside the Magic Kingdom".

The media's attention shifted from a fascination with the persona of JT LeRoy and the writing, to a castigation of Laura Albert. Laura Albert did not publish writing as JT LeRoy again.

In 2008, Savannah Knoop published Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT LeRoy, a memoir about the six years she spent as LeRoy.[21]

Film option and lawsuit[edit]

Antidote International Films, Inc., and its president Jeffrey Levy-Hinte announced plans for a film adaptation of Sarah to be directed by Steven Shainberg. According to The New York Times, when Shainberg "learned who had truly written 'Sarah' an inspiration came to him to make a 'meta-film', a triple-layered movie that would blend the novel with the lives of its real and purported authors in a project he took to calling 'Sarah Plus'."[22] The New York Times also reported that this new project "required the rights to Laura Albert's story, rights that she in no uncertain terms refused to grant."[23] Levy-Hinte stated, "that the lawsuit was less about getting his money back than about sticking up for fair dealing and telling the truth. I’m kind of a person of principle. I wasn’t willing to simply walk away and take a loss with no apology or reasonable explanation.”"[24]

In June 2007 Antidote sued Laura Albert for fraud, claiming that a contract signed with JT LeRoy to make a feature film of Sarah was null and void.[25] ABC News questioned whether Antidote's lawyer "may have misfired by comparing Albert to Shakespeare in an attempt to claim that authorship matters. 'You think Shakespeare would be Shakespeare if he didn't write it – whoever Shakespeare really is?' he asked."[26] On June 22 a Manhattan jury found Albert liable in monetary damages for the tort of fraud because she had signed her nom de plume to the movie contract. She was ordered to pay $110,000 to Antidote, covering the option contract, as well as an extra $6,500 in punitive damages.[27] In reporting the verdict on June 23, Alan Feuer noted in The New York Times, "He [Jeffrey Levy-Hinte] went on to say that if Ms. Albert, who never made a fortune from her literary works, could not afford to pay the judgment, he might have to consider laying claim to the rights to her past and future books."[24] On July 31, 2007, the court ordered Albert to pay an additional $350,000 in legal fees to Antidote.[23] After having appealed, the damages awarded were reduced by settlement with Antidote in 2009, and Laura Albert retained the rights to her books and her life story.[28][29]

In August 2008, the Authors Guild released an amicus brief in regard to the trial verdict, supporting Albert and opposing the jury's decision, stating that the decision "will have negative repercussions extending into the future for many authors. The right to free speech, and the right to speak and write anonymously are rights protected by our Constitution, and the district court's decision which holds that Laura Albert's use of pseudonym breached the Option and Purchase Agreement, is one that will have a chilling effect upon authors wishing to exercise their right to write anonymously". They went on to request that the court reverse the decision in regards to a breach of contract.[30]

Obviously, the Jury and the Court did not agree. As explained by Filmmaker magazine, "Antidote v. Albert has succeeded in extending the 21st century’s most fascinating literary hoax into a whole new discursive realm. While some have argued that the case is about the right of an author to create a pseudonym for him or herself (and Antidote has proposed that it’s just about the non-ability of a fictitious person to enter into legal agreements), the verdict is a step towards defining the responsibilities of the alter-ego. In an age in which many if not most people employ fictitious identities in everything from puffed-up dating profiles to Second Life avatars, Antidote v. Albert seeks to identify the responsibilities of identity — even a fictitious one."[31]

Discussion About The Use of the Pseudonym[edit]

Laura Albert About Her Pseudonym[edit]

Over the next decade, without the pseudonym, Laura Albert gradually became more publicly expressive. Writing for The New York Times in 2016, Albert noted, "I meet a lot of young people and they're shocked that it was an issue to even have an avatar. Because they've grown up where you have multiple fully formed avatars."[32]

In 2010, Laura Albert gave an extensive cover-story interview—her first—with Nathaniel Rich of The Paris Review, detailing her own troubled history and her personal experiences with abuse, abandonment, institutionalization, sex work, gender identity, and her need, since childhood, to create alternate personae (chiefly over the telephone) as a psychological survival mechanism, through which she could articulate her own ideas and feelings.[33] In November 2010, Laura Albert appeared at The Moth to tell her story on video.

Media Discussion About The Use of The Pseudonym[edit]

Media discussion about Laura Albert's creation of the JT LeRoy pseudonym and public persona continues to this day.

While many authors have taken pen names for various reasons (anonymity, protection of privacy), the persona that Albert and her friends created raised criticism from those who took her novels to be autobiographical.[citation needed] Albert later declared, "No audience for any work of art needs to worry about being fooled. Art is the opportunity to change the way you think, which means you can never be fooled – you either have that experience or you don't."[34]

"Looking back, Laura Albert anticipated just about all of it," commented author Adam Langer. "Long before we had split our personas into the lives we truly live and the ones that we choose to create on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and everywhere else, Albert created her own avatar." [35]

Peter Carlson wrote in The Washington Post, "The San Francisco Chronicle called the LeRoy affair 'the greatest literary hoax in a generation'. But this fascinating interview reveals that the real story was far more complex and interesting." In Lemon Magazine, head writer Robert Bundy wrote an editorial entitled "Yes Virginia, There Is A JT LeRoy", in the style of Francis P. Church's classic 1897 article "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus", which defended the belief in Santa Claus. Bundy argued that LeRoy exists "because a touching expression of longing, suffering, love, and endurance is not disqualified simply because it issues from a construct. He exists because if words and stories resonate and move the reader, then it matters not that the hand writing them signed another's name."

Hans Eisenbeis, in the MinneapolisSaint Paul newspaper The Rake, wrote, "I don't know what all the fuss is about. In the business, it's called a pseudonym, and the fact that J.T. LeRoy has been writing and publishing under that name for more than a decade ought to be track record enough to establish his (or her) credentials... It's an interesting mystery, but seems to me sort of irrelevant to whether the work written by that person is publishable or not."

In popular culture[edit]

References to JT LeRoy and the books have continued to turn up in popular culture, such as episodes of Law & Order and Smash, and the Brazilian rock musical JT, Um Conto de Fadas Punk ("JT, A Punk Fairy Tale"). Artist/director Robert Wilson created his VOOM video portrait of JT LeRoy.[36]

Filmmaker Michael Arias claimed JT LeRoy for his inspiration in translating Taiyo Matsumoto's manga Sunny.[37] At a 2013 symposium with filmmaker J. J. Abrams in New York, actress and writer Lena Dunham said that JT LeRoy "co-opted my imagination for a full year of my life. [...] It was pretty remarkable. And then you also go, 'This person isn't who they claim to be, but they still wrote this book that captured all of our imaginations, so then why does the identity of the author even matter when you're reading fiction and engaging with it in a really personal way?'"[38] That same year, Laura Albert told Interview magazine, “You know, JT LeRoy does not exist. But he lives. That’s what a famous film historian once said about Bugs Bunny."[39] Another interviewer insisted, "Albert had ingeniously hacked the literary establishment."[34] In March 2014 the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Academy of Friends Oscar Party in San Francisco invited JT LeRoy – played by gender-fluid fashion model Rain Dove Dubilewski – to walk the runway as part of its HIV/AIDS fundraiser.[40] Documentaries about JT LeRoy include Author: The JT LeRoy Story (2016) directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, The Cult of JT LeRoy (2015) directed by Marjorie Sturm, and The Ballad of JT LeRoy (2014) directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson. Writing about having curated a recent photographic exhibition that included Mary Ellen Mark's 2001 portrait of JT LeRoy for Vanity Fair, Chuck Mobley of San Francisco Camerawork insisted, "There were a lot of moral judgments being made (by educated people who should know better) that were exhausting and simplistic. [...] The grievances aired seemed petty and obscured a far more fascinating and intellectually stimulating story."[41] Many others have felt differently,"When Albert’s fraud was finally exposed (after she wrecked the credibility of several publications, book companies, a film studio—plus many gullible readers) the reaction was justifiably angry and strong."[42]

The documentarian Jeff Feuerzeig co-produced, wrote, and directed a film documenting the scandal, titled Author: The JT LeRoy Story; the only film on this subject thus far to receive American and European theatrical distribution, it premiered in United States theaters in September 2016.

Comparisons to other Pseudonym Uses[edit]

The JT LeRoy case has been frequently compared with the contemporaneous controversy involving the author James Frey, despite the difference that Frey's work was published as a memoir, and LeRoy's work was published as fiction.

There have been many comparisons to Armisted Maupin's "The Night Listener' and the case of Anthony Godby Johnson. ”[43]

The 2016 exposure of Elena Ferrante's identity was an opportunity to revisit the media's reaction to the JT LeRoy outing. The persona of the author contributes to the marketing of the books. For Ferrante, her invisibility also became a romantic story, and Smith claims that "it also became, despite her, a selling point." People liked and admired Elena Ferrante's reclusive identity, "just as they revered the troubled young man J.T. LeRoy." However, a piece in The New Yorker distinguished the two based on the premise that JT LeRoy's persona was "a performance consciously created," whereas Elena Ferrante's persona seems to have been created passively, without anyone purporting to be the physical representation of the author.[44]



  1. ^ https://www.amazon.com/Heart-Deceitful-Above-All-Things/dp/1582342113/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1481074656&sr=1-4&keywords=jt+leroy
  2. ^ "Laura Albert" (PDF). Jtleroy.com. 2014-06-20. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  3. ^ LeRoy, JT. Sarah. Bloomsbury USA (June 9, 2000) ISBN 1-58234-146-X.
  4. ^ LeRoy, JT. The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. Bloomsbury USA Hardcover (June 9, 2001) ISBN 1-58234-142-7 Paperback (June 1, 2002) ISBN 1-58234-211-3.
  5. ^ LeRoy, JT. Harold's End. Last Gasp (January 30, 2005) ISBN 0-86719-614-9. Originally in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern Issue 7. Italian translation La fine di Harold by Martina Testa. Fazio Editore 2003. ISBN 88-8112-387-8.
  6. ^ LeRoy, JT. Labour. Last Gasp USA (March 31, 2007) ISBN 978-0-86719-654-2.
  7. ^ LeRoy, JT (ed). Da Capo Best Music Writing 2005: The Year's Finest Writing on Rock, Hip-hop, Jazz, Pop, Country & More. Da Capo Press (October 30, 2005) ISBN 0-306-81446-3
  8. ^ a b "The Boy Who Cried Author". Vanity Fair. 2014-01-02. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  9. ^ "Strange little birds". Garbage. 
  10. ^ "Figure in JT LeRoy Case Says Partner Is Culprit". The New York Times. February 7, 2006. 
  11. ^ http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Soul-baring-fiction-author-J-T-LeRoy-plays-with-2556606.php |title=Soul-baring fiction author J.T. LeRoy plays with gender - and identity. Does it really matter who he is?
  12. ^ http://forward.com/culture/351569/how-to-kill-a-butterfly-like-elena-ferrante-or-jt-leroy/?attribution=home-hero-item-text-4 |title=How To Kill a Butterfly Like Elena Ferrante or JT Leroy - Culture –
  13. ^ "Laura Albert at The Moth "My Avatar & Me"". Retrieved 2013-01-30 – via YouTube. 
  14. ^ "Still Beating". Sfbg.com. Retrieved 2013-06-26. 
  15. ^ "How To Kill a Butterfly Like Elena Ferrante or JT Leroy - Culture –". Forward.com. 2016-10-10. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  16. ^ "Author JT LeRoy Story Documentary Laura Albert". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  17. ^ http://www.sfgate.com/living/article/IDENTITY-CRISIS-How-former-sex-writer-Laura-2501521.php
  18. ^ http://newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/people/features/14718/index4.html
  19. ^ http://www.vanityfair.com/style/2006/04/jtleroy200604
  20. ^ "JT LeRoy test". 
  21. ^ This is the woman who played the man who became a transsexual and fooled the world for six years, The Guardian, November 2, 2008
  22. ^ Feuer, Alan. "In Writer's Trial, a Conflict Over Roles of Art and Money". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  23. ^ a b Feuer, Alan (August 1, 1007). ""Judge Orders Author to Pay Film Company $350,000 in Legal Fees"". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  24. ^ a b Alan Feuer (2007-06-23). "Jury Finds JT LeRoy Was Fraud". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  25. ^ Writer Testifies About Source of Nom de Plume By Alan Feuer, The New York Times, Published: June 20, 2007.
  26. ^ ""Jurors: LeRoy Hoax Was Fraud, Not Fiction"". ABC News. June 22, 2007. Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  27. ^ Westfeldt, Amy (June 23, 2007). "Jury: Novel Bought by Company Fraudulent". Associated Press.
  28. ^ Hogan, Ron. "Laura Albert Settles Film Company's 'Fraud' Suit". mediabistro.com. Retrieved 2009-09-14. http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/laura-albert-settles-film-companys-fraud-suit_b10026
  29. ^ Andrew Purcell, "Author Faces Bankruptcy Over Transgender Alter-Ego," in Sunday Herald, June 30, 2007
  30. ^ "amicus brief". jasminlim.com. 
  31. ^ Comments. "Antidote Wins Jt Leroy Case". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  32. ^ "Ten Years Later, the 'Real' JT LeRoy Tells All". The New York Times. August 1, 2016. Retrieved August 22, 2016. 
  33. ^ Nathaniel Rich (Fall 2006). "Being JT LeRoy (excerpt)" (178). The Paris Review. 
  34. ^ a b "5 Questions for Laura Albert". LASTLOOK. 
  35. ^ Langer, Adam (August 2013). "Laura Albert
  36. ^ "JT LEROY -". Dissident USA. 
  37. ^ "The 'Sunny' side of Taiyo Matsumoto". The Japan Times. 
  38. ^ CuInAnotherLifeBro (November 29, 2013). "JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst w/ Lena Dunham discuss S. #whoisStraka (2/4)" – via YouTube. 
  39. ^ "Laura Albert". interviewmagazine.com. 
  40. ^ "Long-lost Ukrainian uncle has left you $5 million". www.sfgate.com. 
  41. ^ "Laura Albert with Mary Ellen Mark's portrait of JT LeRoy at SF Camerawork". ashadedviewonfashion.com. 
  42. ^ White, Armond (2016-09-09). "JT LeRoy, A Drag Act in the Worst Sense | Out Magazine". Out.com. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  43. ^ "Who is JT LeRoy? The True Identity of a Great Literary Hustler". Nymag.com. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  44. ^ Cobb, Jelani (2016-10-03). "The "Unmasking" of Elena Ferrante". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 

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