Blog Posts

The Great Modernist Poetry Prank

Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Literary Hoaxes, Parody, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, Satire, The History of Pranks

The Futility Closet podcast investigates two Australian army officers whose antipathy for the arts establishment inspired them to create a fake writer and receive embarrassing critical acclaim. Take some time to pore over the copious background materials and keep in mind that this predates the Sokal Hoax by almost five decades.

“The Great Australian Poetry Hoax”
by Greg Ross
Futility Closet
October 17, 2016

2016-10-17-podcast-episode-126-ern-malleyIn 1943, fed up with modernist poetry, two Australian servicemen invented a fake poet and submitted a collection of deliberately senseless verses to a Melbourne arts magazine. To their delight, they were accepted and their author hailed as “one of the most remarkable and important poetic figures of this country.” In this week”™s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we”™ll tell the story of the Ern Malley hoax, its perpetrators, and its surprising legacy in Australian literature.

We”™ll also hear a mechanized Radiohead and puzzle over a railroad standstill. Read more.

The Strange Case of JT LeRoy

Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hype, Literary Hoaxes, Prank News, Publicity Stunts

JT LeRoy was widely presumed to be a gay prostitute from West Virginia who became the toast of NYC art-hipsterdom on the strength of his autobiographical books. The problem was that he didn’t exist at all – he was a character invented by a frustrated failed writer named Laura Albert and played by a friend of Albert’s in a blonde wig. Frauds and fabulists ran amok in the Bush years, and LeRoy’s unmasking didn’t garner the same attention and schadenfreude as the downfalls of rouge reporter Jayson Blair or manly-man poseur James Frey. But as a new documentary explores, his story was a hell of a lot weirder.

“JT LeRoy doc explores absorbing literary scandal”
by Lindsey Bahr
September 7, 2016

downloadTo the general public, the name JT LeRoy probably rings only the vaguest of bells, if any at all. It didn’t for this particular critic. But that innocent ignorance is all the more reason to seek out the documentary “Author: The JT LeRoy Story ,” a fascinating peek into one of the wildest literary scandals in recent years and the bizarre nature of celebrity relationships. Director Jeff Feuerzeig’s film, while undeniably one-sided, will have your mind spinning with questions about authorship, authenticity, art and fame.

Read more.

Catching Up With Serial Fabulist Stephen Glass

Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Hanna Rosin attempts to square up with her former bestie, one of American journalism’s most notorious bullshitters.

Bonus: has a confounding collection of essays on frauds in journalism.

“Hello, My Name Is Stephen Glass, and I”™m Sorry”
By Hanna Rosin
The New Republic
November 10, 2014

He nearly destroyed this magazine. Sixteen years later, his former best friend finally confronts him.


The last time I talked to Stephen Glass, he was pleading with me on the phone to protect him from Charles Lane. Chuck, as we called him, was the editor of The New Republic and Steve was my colleague and very good friend, maybe something like a little brother, though we are only two years apart in age. Steve had a way of inspiring loyalty, not jealousy, in his fellow young writers, which was remarkable given how spectacularly successful he”™d been in such a short time. While the rest of us were still scratching our way out of the intern pit, he was becoming a franchise, turning out bizarre and amazing stories week after week for The New Republic, Harper”™s, and Rolling Stone””each one a home run.

I didn”™t know when he called me that he”™d made up nearly all of the bizarre and amazing stories, that he was the perpetrator of probably the most elaborate fraud in journalistic history, that he would soon become famous on a whole new scale. I didn”™t even know he had a dark side. It was the spring of 1998 and he was still just my hapless friend Steve, who padded into my office ten times a day in white socks and was more interested in alphabetizing beer than drinking it. When he called, I was in New York and I said I would come back to D.C. right away. I probably said something about Chuck like: “Fuck him. He can”™t fire you. He can”™t possibly think you would do that.”

I was wrong, and Chuck, ever-resistant to Steve”™s charms, was as right as he”™d been in his life. (more…)

World Class Literary Deception

posted by
Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes

Celebrity biography readers beware. David Cay Johnston catalogs how one best-selling author, C. David Heymann, who wrote books of historical significance about world leaders and A-class celebs, filled his pages with inaccuracies and downright scurrilous fabrications.

C. David Heymann”™s Lies About JFK and Jackie, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor
by David Cay Johnston
August 27, 2014

C. David Heymann

He had been dead for over two years, but he still had a magic touch with readers.

When best-selling author C. David Heymann”™s latest (and last) book, Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love, came out in July, it received the kind of reviews most authors would kill for. The Columbus Dispatch called it an “engrossing portrait.” The Christian Science Monitor and the New York Post raved. Kirkus Reviews said it was “a well-researched story” revealing the “profoundly unethical behavior of the medical and mental health professionals who dealt with [Monroe].” The popular Canadian magazine Maclean”™s praised Heymann”™s research, finding “his sources credible.”

The publisher, a subsidiary of media behemoth CBS, says Joe and Marilyn tells “the riveting true story” of the lusty, tempestuous and brief marriage between the Yankees slugger and the iconic actress. In this and his previous 10 books, Heymann served up intimate details no other celebrity biographer could match. It was often titillating and sometimes shocking stuff. In Joe and Marilyn, Heymann wrote that DiMaggio beat Monroe, wiretapped her home and stalked her by skulking around in disguises, wearing a fake beard and for hours holding up a copy of The New York Times so no one would notice him in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria hotel.


LiteratEye #40: And Death Shall Have No Dominion, Particularly If You’re a Best-Selling Author

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s the fortieth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #40: And Death Shall Have No Dominion, Particularly If You’re a Best-Selling Author
By W.J. Elvin III
November 20, 2009

pride, prejudice, zombies200It seems a sad thing that writers who keep on pumping out books after they are dead aren’t around to enjoy the benefits. Maybe there are literary awards passed out in heaven? “Best Book By A Recently-Deceased Author.”

I got to thinking about that after learning that mystery writer and outdoor expert William G. Tapply, who had become just plain “Bill” over the course of our correspondence last year, died recently. He left several books still to be published.

What that leads into is the issue of after-death publishing, not the posthumous publication of completed works as in Tapply’s case but works produced under an author’s name but actually involving other writers.

Sometimes such books are based on partially completed manuscripts, or even derived from ideas jotted on a cocktail napkin. If that.

The issue takes some odd turns. (more…)

LiteratEye #38: New ‘Literary Hoaxes’ Book Leaves the Curious Reader in the Dark

posted by
Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the thirty eighth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #38: New ‘Literary Hoaxes’ Book Leaves the Curious Reader in the Dark
By W.J. Elvin III
November 6, 2009

There are a great many mysteries in the field of literary deception.

amberwitch-200So it is always a pleasure to learn of a new book that may shed light.

Having seen advance reviews some time ago in the British Press, I eagerly awaited the arrival of Melissa Katsoulis’ Literary Hoaxes.

Well, it’s a grand overview, a nice line-up of the usual suspects, but I’m less than delighted. Hoaxes raises many more questions than it answers, most of the questions resulting from a failure to source the tales therein.

How is it Katsoulis knows so much about William Henry Ireland, the young Shakespeare forger of the late 1700s?

Who told Katsoulis that the American Indian imposter Grey Owl was once recognized through his feathers by his very British aunts, who decided to keep their observation a secret?

And what assurance do we have that the author has her facts straight regarding Pierre Plantard’s part in creating the hoax behind Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code?

And so on, and on.

The book has no citations, no bibliography. No index, though the table of contents serves the purpose in a basic way. There just aren’t many signposts to guide those who might want to know more about any given topic. (more…)

LiteratEye #27: The Plagiarist – A Literary Vampire?

Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the twenty seventh installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #27: The Plagiarist – A Literary Vampire?
By W.J. Elvin III
August 21, 2009

Twilight-PosterJordan Scott claims mega-best-selling author Stephenie Meyer stole some plot ideas for her teenage vampire romance series.

Based on particulars I’ve seen, Scott’s chances of chomping into Meyer’s colossal publishing and film cake are somewhere between slim and none.

There are similarities in the story in question, but coincidence of ideas and phrases is hardly unique in literature.

Generally speaking, plagiarism has more to do with intent than with specifics. Of course there are some blatant cases, as in the one to be discussed further along here, where material is lifted practically “as is.”

Seems like any author who hits it big – Dan Brown and A.J. Rowling come immediately to mind – attracts plagiarism charges and/or lawsuits.

And there are cases in the past – Alex Haley and Roots for instance — where charges have held up. Haley settled with Harry Courlander, author of “The African,” for $650,000.

Well, let’s move on to a case where the hijacking was indisputable. Words for the Taking: The Hunt for a Plagiarist by Neal Bowers details the relentless pursuit of a plagiarist who stole poems, changing them only slightly before sending them off to small literary magazines as his own. (more…)

LiteratEye #18: Fakers Find Flaws in Open-Access Free-for-All

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Pranks

Here’s the eighteenth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #18: Fakers Find Flaws in Open-Access Free-for-All
By W.J. Elvin III
June 19, 2009

In this section, we discuss existing research into red-black trees, vacuum tubes, and courseware [10]. On a similar note, recent work by Takahashi suggests a methodology for providing robust modalities, but does not offer an implementation [9].

– Excerpted from a heap of gibberish accepted for publication by a well-known science journal. As this column explains, the promise of the “open access” movement in scientific and scholarly journals is not without problems.

russiatodayWho owns knowledge? One way to get a clue is to try to access research papers published in expensive, exclusive scientific and scholarly journals. Can’t do it with a simple Google search. To pick that lock, you’ll need a credit card.

However, the open access movement is changing that.

The open access movement strives to make scientific and scholarly studies available to all, free. That’s the bottom line. Naturally there’s a more complicated explanation, so, if you want to explore the finer points, check out the Open Access Overview.

Anyway, what a great idea, specialized knowledge accessible to all, minus the usual sky-high price tag.

And you figure these big-hearted publishers of elite and prestigious journals that have been raking in astronomical subscription prices and hefty pay-per-view fees are just opening the gates to the rabble?

Sort of. (more…)

LiteratEye #1: George Washington Lied About Taxes

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

We’re pleased to announce the debut of LiteratEye, a new series, only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

Literary deception is John’s “beat” and he has agreed to send us a “casebook” dispatch each week for the foreseeable future. Says John, “When literary fraud is exposed it’s usually pretty well covered in the mainstream press, but seems to me they often overlook a good story in who dug it out and how. Sometimes it’s forensics but other times it’s just chance, someone remembers something that puts the work in a questionable light.”

Here, in honor of President’s Day, is John’s first post:

LiteratEye #1: George Washington Lied About Taxes
by W.J. Elvin III
February 13, 2009

Prepare to be shocked and appalled

Minute Book 1756 page 463Few believe, surely, that George Washington never told a lie, or even that he confessed to chopping down one of his father’s cherry trees, as his early biographer Parson Mason Locke Weems suggested. Weems saw nothing wrong with a bit of fabrication when it served his purposes. Neither, for that matter, did Washington.

Well, if that’s so, what lie did George Washington tell? Name one. No doubt revisionist historians could provide a few dozen, but up until recently I certainly couldn’t have done it. I ran across this little nugget while researching other matters in old newspapers, the sort of thing I do in putting together Fiona, a magazine about literary fraud and folly.

I ran my discovery past Rick Shenkman, editor of History News Network, and he replied that there is no mention of it in the papers of George Washington. I don’t know if that means “and therefore it’s a crock,” or perhaps “good for you, you’ve rescued a valuable anecdote from the dustbin of history.” Possibly neither.

At any rate, evidence in colonial court records, stolen during the Civil War from Fairfax Court House in Virginia but since recovered, indicates that George Washington once faced charges of “swearing a false oath” – that is to say, telling a lie in order to dodge taxes. (more…)