Oscar Wilde once said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” This is a theory that the efficacious writer, Laura Albert, uses to defend the reasons behind her authorship controversy throughout the last decade.
Albert is a celebrated novelist, born and raised in Brooklyn, who is responsible for such accounts as Sarah and Harold’s End, as well as for the short story collection, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. Back in the early 2000’s, the creation of these visceral works was not credited to Albert; instead, acknowledgement was given to someone else. JT Leroy was his name, only he wasn’t a real person. Leroy’s true identity was unveiled in 2006, when he was uncovered to be a literary hoax created by Albert.
This discovery came as a shock, especially to the thousands of people who felt they had known Leroy intimately through his memoirs. His story captivated the world, and gained attention from important public figures. Not only was Leroy’s vitality felt deeply through his writing skills, but he had also spent hours corresponding with admirers over the phone and through email, deepening the belief that he was a real person. The assiduity escaladed to a point in which Albert persuaded herself to have Leroy appear live for interviews in order to discuss his traumatic upbringing and endless ambition for self expression. These appearances were carefully choreographed with the help of those who were trustworthy and willing to further the descent into the rabbit hole. Soon enough, spectators began to formulate skepticisms that ultimately led to the truth.
So what was it about Albert’s fictitious character that had beguiled so many readers? She states, “People responded to the felt authenticity of the JT LeRoy books because my real emotion and feelings and sensibilities went into them.” Albert wrote these stories in an attempt to understand the impact of trauma. Leroy was a character that endured a horrifying childhood. He suffered extreme mental and sexual abuse. He worked side by side with his drug-abusing mother as an underage transvestite prostitute at the local truck stop. Yet through this anguish, a beautiful story of heroism and mental fortitude shines through. This was Albert’s intention. She states, “Art is the language of the unconscious and is uniquely able to transmit a felt life experience.”
Albert aimed to motivate people to create change by illustrating how trauma, shame, and fear can be passed through generation to generation. It is a cerebral disease that has gone untreated and misunderstood. Albert was able to escape the numbing memories of her own childhood through her art, and in turn, inspire her audience to, “take problems of the soul and spirit and transform them into issues of craft and technique.”
Albert’s creation of Leroy was a conduit that allowed her to heal from the isolation and agony she was experiencing in every-day life. She could not have predicted the response Leroy had received from the public’s eye, nor does she regret it. Albert states, “I get the greatest sense of peace, completeness, and accomplishment when someone comes up to me and shares how my work impacted them in a way that allowed them to feel and know what they had not known before.”
This literary endeavor has opened the door for Albert to explore new channels within the film industry to voice her creativity. She wrote the original script for Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, which was rewarded the Palme d’Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. She also was a writer for the HBO series Deadwood. Albert has served as a juror for the Brasilia International Film Festival and the Sapporo International Short Film Festival, and now, Albert is the subject of Jeff Feuerzeig’s new documentary, which will be screened at the 2016 Greenwich International Film Festival.
Author: The JT LeRoy Story will be showcased on Sunday, June 12th 2016, followed by a Q&A with Laura Albert. This immersive documentary details the incredible true story through the assemblage of archival footage, beautifully animated sequences, home movies, phone messages, and extensive interviews. Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime event happening at the 2nd annual Greenwich International Film Festival.
Tickets are available for purchase HERE.
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