Coal Miner Mother of a Mess

In which we call bullshit on J.T. LeRoy's "essay" in the Oxford American's music issue

At which point we turn to Smirnoff, the Oxford American's editor. At the end of a testy interview, after he questioned my credentials, cut me off several times and told me he had only glanced at the e-mails I had sent to him along with LeRoy's camp, here's what he had to say about running the piece as an essay: "Maybe a newspaper wouldn't be comfortable running a piece like J.T. LeRoy's as an essay -- I wouldn't be comfortable with the lack of fact-checking that goes on at a newspaper," he said. (Thus ignoring that it was a messed-up fact that made me call bullshit on "Coal Miner Mother.") "We have different practices. And this was a literary experiment at a literary magazine, and maybe that's not something you're comfortable with. More power to you. A literary experiment in a literary magazine…That would be my final position on it. But I'm also comfortable with you saying that it should have been a story, or an essay. I think it could have gone either way in a literary magazine. We are not a newspaper."

But we are. And the meaning of words still matters to me, and to pass this off as an essay in an issue of a magazine, literary or not, that was otherwise (save for a couple of poems and a comic strip) given over to nonfiction profiles and true-to-life, plausible essays, smacks of a bad decision at best. At worst, it could be interpreted as a fabrication, a hoax.

What you think of it depends on where you stand on the issue of "true fact" vs. "true fiction."

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