Laura Albert

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Laura Victoria Albert
Lauraalbert2.jpg
Laura Albert in her study
Born (1965-11-02) November 2, 1965 (age 51)
Brooklyn, New York City
Pen name JT LeRoy
Emily Frasier, Speedie, Laura Victoria, Gluttenberg
Occupation Author
Genre Fiction

Laura Victoria Albert (born November 2, 1965) is the American author of writings that include works credited to the literary persona JT LeRoy, whom Albert described as an "avatar",[1] saying she was able to write things as LeRoy that she could not have said as Laura Albert. Albert was born and raised in Brooklyn. She has also used the names Emily Frasier and Speedie, and published other works as Laura Victoria and Gluttenberg. Albert was sued for fraud when she signed a film option contract with her pseudonym; a jury found against her. The damages to be paid to the film company were settled out of court.

Writing and other activities[edit]

Albert published three books under the JT LeRoy pseudonym– Sarah (2000), The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (2001), and Harold's End (2004).

According to the New Republic, Sarah was the second book Albert wrote but the first one published. The narrator is an adolescent among a group of lot lizards, teen male prostitutes at truck stops. Each wears a signature raccoon penis bone necklace. The narrator aspires to be like his mother, Sarah, to move higher in the ranks of prostitutes. The book is by JT LeRoy but LeRoy’s character is never directly named. The nom de lizard is 'Cherry Vanilla' or, more regularly he is called Sarah, after his mother. The writing is evocative of a folksy magical realism, vivid, colorful phrases to describe the unconventional and gritty reality of a young gender-fluid boy.[2]

SF Weekly's literary critic described the The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things as "essentially the prequel to Sarah." This novel is a collection of ten stories that describe a "chaotic, nomadic, and abuse-filled childhood." In the opening story, "Disappearances," a young boy named Jeremiah leaves a stable foster home to reunite with his biological mother, Sarah, an 18-year-old drug addict. The stories begin in Appalachia and follow the characters to California. Jeremiah's grandfather beats him while invoking judgmental Christian dogma. The abuse is the most consistent form of physical touch Jeremiah knows, and he comes to interpret it as a form of love.[3]

Albert wrote "Dreams of Levitation," Sharif Hamza's short film for NOWNESS, and has also written for the acclaimed television series Deadwood. The film "Radiance," which she also wrote, was made an Official Selection of the 2015 Bokeh South African International Fashion Film Festival. She collaborated with director and playwright Robert Wilson for the international exhibition of his VOOM video portraits, and with the catalog for his "Frontiers: Visions of the Frontier" at Institut Valencià d'Art Modern (IVAM).[4] In 2012 she served on the juries of the first Brasilia International Film Festival and the Sapporo International Short Film Festival; she also attended Brazil's international book fair, Bienal Brasil do Livro e da Leitura, where she and Alice Walker were the U.S. representatives. Brazil's Geração Editorial has re-released the JT LeRoy books in a boxset under Laura Albert's name, and she and JT are the subjects of the hit Brazilian rock musical JT, Um Conto de Fadas Punk ("JT, A Punk Fairy Tale"). On March 11, 2014, the San Francisco Chronicle reported[5] 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[6] as part of its HIV/AIDS fundraiser.

Laura Albert recently starred in a documentary about JT LeRoy that premiered at Sundance, titled Author: The JT LeRoy Story (2016) directed by Jeff Feuerzeig.

Albert has taught at Dave Eggers' 826 Valencia and the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, and has lectured with artist Jasmin Lim at Artists' Television Access with SF Camerawork's Chuck Mobley, in conjunction with a window installation about her work. A spokeswoman for the successful "Heart for Eye" campaign to raise funds for eye surgery for children, Albert hosted a television segment and was both an interviewee and an interviewer of inspirational women such as Anastasia Barbieri and Anh Duong. She was photographed by Steven Klein for QVEST magazine and by Kai Regan for his "Reckless Endangerment" at ALIFE; she has also done fashion shoots for Christian Lacroix and John Galliano. Albert profiled Juergen Teller for the 2003 Citibank Photography Prize catalogue; and published her reminiscence of Lou Reed in The Forward. She was a catalog contributor for the "Blind Cut" exhibition at New York's Marlborough Chelsea and collaborated with Williamsburg band Japanther, releasing a limited-edition cassette under the name True Love in a Large Room, with original artwork by Winston Smith. She has also written for dot429, the world's largest LGBTA professional network, and been an invited speaker at their annual conferences in New York.

Pseudonym[edit]

As a teen, 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. 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.[7]

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." [8]

Albert went on to pursue literary conversations under the guise of JT Leroy, or as his friend Speedie. According to author Mary Gaitskill, at a dinner date in which she and LeRoy were to meet, instead, JT’s friend, Speedie, sat down, and she and Gaitskill had a long conversation. "She struck me as very bright and very young," recalled Gaitskill.[9]

Some accused Albert of intentionally manipulating people with a sympathetic persona such as LeRoy's in order to gain access and publication that she would not otherwise have been able to achieve as Laura Albert. According to the SF Gate, "Whether the hoax was a performance-art lark or a cynical Ponzi scheme has been hotly debated. Those who defend the work argue that the stories -- no matter the source -- have touched people, furnishing their minds as literature does. And, they note, the books have always been labeled fiction." [10]

Said Gaitskill in one interview, “It’s occurred to me that the whole thing with Jeremy is a hoax, but I felt that even if it turned out to be a hoax, it’s a very enjoyable one. And a hoax that exposes things about people, the confusion between love and art and publicity. A hoax that would be delightful and if people are made fools of, it would be okay—in fact, it would be useful.”[11]

What is not debated is that there was a demand for JT LeRoy to appear in public. SF Chronicle commented that, "The permeable membrane between author and subject was tantalizing."[12] LeRoy was known to avoid the spotlight and refused to be labelled permanently male or female. His edgy work, as well as his elusiveness, drew attention from the media and developed a cult-like following, with praise from celebrities including Winona Ryder, Courtney Love, and Bono. The publisher and marketers capitalized on this fascination to provide further opportunities to expose the books. The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things was described in the Publisher's Comments as "The extraordinary stories that brought the author a cult following at the age of sixteen," and "loosely edited autobiographical stories" for the persona of JT LeRoy.

Instead of discarding her pseudonym and exposing herself in order to remind the public that LeRoy's story, though published as fiction, was not in fact, a memoir, Laura Albert chose her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, a 25-year-old aspiring clothes designer, to embody the pseudonym in public. In 2001, a person claiming to be LeRoy began appearing in public, usually decked out in wigs and sunglasses".[13] Thereafter, the persona of JT LeRoy took on a public life of its own with a backstory that echoed the settings and events described in the books. Savannah Knoop as JT LeRoy, wore wigs and sunglasses, and was often accompanied by Laura Albert as her roommate, called Speedie/Emily Frasier, and Geoffrey Knoop, called Astor.

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 Vanity 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." [14]

However, Stephen Beachy published an article in 2005 to imply that Laura Albert wrote the stories,[15] 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.[16] Savannah Knoop stopped making public appearances as JT LeRoy. 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.

Over the next decade, without the pseudonym, 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."[17]

Media discussion about Albert's creation of the JT LeRoy pseudonym and public persona continues to this day. "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." [18]

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.[19] Albert signed a contract giving Antidote an option for the film rights to Sarah in the name of JT LeRoy.[20] When Antidote discovered that JT LeRoy was a pseudonym of Albert, it sued Albert for fraud, alleging that the option contract was void. A jury found against Albert and ordered her to pay Antidote the $110,000 she had received for the contract, as well as $6,500 in punitive damages.[21] Albert was also ordered to pay $350,000 in legal fees to Antidote.[22] Albert reached an out-of-court settlement with Antidote that allowed her to retain the copyright for her past and future works and gave Antidote payments based on Albert's future earnings.[23]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Albert, Laura. "Laura Albert at The Moth "My Avatar & Me"". YouTube. Retrieved 2013-01-30. 
  2. ^ https://newrepublic.com/article/136715/jt-leroys-fiction-good
  3. ^ http://archives.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/the-heart-is-deceitful-above-all-things/Content?oid=2142804
  4. ^ "JT LEROY - Dissident USA". Retrieved August 22, 2016. 
  5. ^ "Long-lost Ukrainian uncle has left you $5 million". Retrieved August 22, 2016. 
  6. ^ Jasmin Lim (March 11, 2014). "JT LeRoy Lives at lauraalbert.org". Retrieved August 22, 2016 – via YouTube. 
  7. ^ 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?
  8. ^ 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 –
  9. ^ http://newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/people/features/14718/index4.html
  10. ^ 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?
  11. ^ http://newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/people/features/14718/index4.html
  12. ^ 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?
  13. ^ http://newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/people/features/14718/index4.html
  14. ^ http://www.sfgate.com/living/article/IDENTITY-CRISIS-How-former-sex-writer-Laura-2501521.php
  15. ^ http://newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/people/features/14718/index4.html
  16. ^ http://www.vanityfair.com/style/2006/04/jtleroy200604
  17. ^ "Ten Years Later, the 'Real' JT LeRoy Tells All". The New York Times. August 1, 2016. Retrieved August 22, 2016. 
  18. ^ Langer, Adam (August 2013). "Laura Albert
  19. ^ Feuer, Alan. "In Writer's Trial, a Conflict Over Roles of Art and Money". (June 22, 2007) New York Times. Retrieved 2013-09-10.
  20. ^ Feuer, Alan (June 23, 2007). "Jury Finds JT LeRoy Was Fraud". The New York Times. 
  21. ^ Westfeldt, Amy. "Jury: novel bought by company fraudulent." U.S.A. Today. Retrieved 2013-09-18.
  22. ^ Feuer, Alan. "Judge Orders Author to Pay Film Company $350,000 in Legal Fees". (August 1, 1007) New York Times. Retrieved 2013-9-10.
  23. ^ "Laura Albert settles film company's "fraud" suit". AdWeek. September 14, 2009. 

External links[edit]