Scribbler Swindlers Part 1: JT LeRoy

When you think of a grifter, what do you see? A guy in a dark suit with a 5 o’clock shadow, biding his time in a dark, dingy apartment till he finds his next unsuspecting victim? As it turns out, sisters really are doing it for themselves these days, and grifting is no exception.

Maybe the most infamous literary grifter in recent years was cult author JT LeRoy, an androgynous male writer who, as the legend went, was the son of a rest stop prostitute, and endured years of abuse in a hardscrabble West Virginia town before becoming a darling of the literary scene.

IN REALITY, JT LeRoy was a concoction birthed from the mind of Laura Albert, a New York artist. She somehow convinced her sister-in-law, a 20-something waitress, to play the part of JT whenever “his” physical presence was required. And her sister-in-law was not the only one she was able to convince.

The press lavished praise on LeRoy’s short stories and novels for approximately 6 years, until the scheme came under heavy scrutiny in a New York magazine article. A similarly probing NYT article appeared a few months later, and finally, in 2006, Albert’s husband confessed to everything, and the jig was up. In those six years, JT had amassed celebrity friends from Winona Ryder to Liv Tyler, attended nearly every party Hollywood could throw, and was regarded as a kind of mythic figure in literary circles.

Albert claimed—and still claims—that the hoax was nothing more than elaborate performance art, though that’s difficult to explain to all the folks who felt betrayed and swindled by it.

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