Still beating

Laura Albert and the ballad of JT LeRoy
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About a boy? The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things
PHOTO COURTESY OF WILD BUNCH

cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM/LIT A few weeks before our scheduled interview, Laura Albert mails me copies of 2000's Sarah and 2001's The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. Inscribed on Heart's title page is a note: "Thanks for being available to revelation." The volumes are signed "Yours, LA and JT" — the latter, of course, referring to JT LeRoy, the identity under which Albert penned both books.

That secret's been out since late 2005, and has been dissected over and over. It even inspired a Law and Order episode. LeRoy, and his fantastically tragic back story (just out of his teens, he'd survived drugs, homelessness, and prostitution en route to becoming the lit world's hottest wunderkind), were Albert's creations. She was the true author behind the best-sellers listed above, plus 2004's Harold's End, dozens of magazine articles, an early script for Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003), and numerous other works. (Meanwhile, the androgynous "JT" that had been appearing in public was actually the half-sister of Albert's then-partner; she wrote her own tell-all in 2008.) On Albert's website, there are tabs marked "Who is Laura Albert?" and "Who is JT LeRoy?" Both link to Albert's biography.

Years have passed since l'affaire LeRoy, and Albert has moved through the experience in her own way. (Her business card lists her as "literary outlaw.") Later this summer, Sarah will be reissued as an ebook, with a fairy tale-inspired cover by artist Matt Pipes. Albert also is working on her memoirs (though she doesn't like to use the word "memoirs"), and tells me there's a documentary forthcoming from Jeff Feuerzeig, who made 2005's critically-acclaimed The Devil and Daniel Johnston. This weekend, Asia Argento's 2004 adaptation of The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things screens as part of the Clay Theatre's midnight-movie series, with Albert and producer Chris Hanley in person, plus Argento via Skype.

Sitting in her San Francisco kitchen, Albert eyes my tape recorder and admits she'd rather focus on the film, not JT — though it's a topic that inevitably arises. Argento, Albert says, encountered Heart the way many LeRoy readers did, via word-of-mouth recommendation.

"She read the book and she didn't know anything about JT. At the same time, a small publisher was putting out the book [in Italy], and they wanted to bring JT over," Albert recalls. "It was a weird coincidence. They were putting on an event, and they wanted to get someone to read. They had contacted Asia, and she already knew about the book, and she wanted not only to do this event, but to make the movie. It's funny because I thought Sarah would be the first [to become a film], because it was already optioned by Gus [Van Sant]. But Asia moved really fast. We went over to meet her, and I had turned down a lot of people. My feeling was, it's my baby and I'm giving it up for adoption, and I saw that this was someone I could give my baby to."

Argento, the daughter of famed Italian horror director Dario Argento, is best-known stateside as an actor; previous to Heart, her directing experience was limited to short films and 2000's flamboyant Scarlet Diva. Once she decided to helm the movie, her decision to star as the free-spirited, needy, sometimes-cruel single mother of the story's young protagonist was an obvious choice.

"I had concerns about that, how much she would take on the role, how much it would become her. It's ironic, because I had given myself over completely to Jeremy, to JT, to Jeremiah," Albert says. She pauses. "Did you see that French film, about the guy who assumes different characters?"

"Holy Motors?"

Comments

Thanks to Cheryl Eddy for taking a story that will indeed never not be complicated and recounting it in such a lucid and moving manner. The ongoing interest in the JT LeRoy books, more than seven years after the reveal, demonstrate that good fiction is good fiction no matter who signs it. It's gratifying to see that both Albert's writing and Argento's sensational film (she's terrifying as Sarah!) are receiving more of the attention they merit.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 11:25 am

I have followed this story for years and invariably the authors of articles are lazy, doing nothing original, but merely rehashing articles, usually erroneous, that have gone before. You actually explore the topic and the real substance of the JT story. It is fiction with a context -- what do we see of ourselves in the writings of Laura or JT. Your article is by far one of the most illuminating that I have read on this issue.

Posted by Donald on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

Before the pernicious slander of criticism begins, let me be the first to offer a heartfelt thanks to Cheryl Eddy for this beautiful article!

Laura (JT Leroy) is a testament to "becoming the work". She opened up and was attacked for it. When do we separate our expectations from our ability to receive a gift? The wonderful words and celebration of spirit in Laura's work continue to inspire the forgotten and downtrodden. Let's stop hammering the nails for ONE MOMENT so that we are able to hear the voices of the crucified! KEEP INSPIRING! The world is better because of your work Laura!!!!

Posted by JohnnytheSilverSniper on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

It was a pleasure to read your "take" on the JT and Laura Albert story. The complexities of her writings, indeed her own story, are so richly layered - a fact not much discussed in articles - that a reader easily finds differing parts of one's self throughout. Her writing has tutored me in such discovery. Laura's authenticity in her characters rings across all lines: gender, age, personal story, or cultural. Her words, like long supple fingers, trace down to the bottom of one's heart, scraping up to the light unknown buried feelings. As high art everywhere, Laura's writing takes one to new places, then home again, but changed. I'm eagerly anticipating seeing her film version of "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things" !

Posted by Lucinda on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

Great article. All of this makes perfect sense. I think, along with brilliant wordsmithing, Laura Albert's creativity allowed her to engage in a world in which she would not have been so openly welcomed, were she just herself. M
any folks do this, just not as publicly. I hope the naysayers read this with an open mind, and stop condemning her. She doesn't deserve that.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

Great article, thanks for sharing

Posted by Festa Infantil on Aug. 03, 2014 @ 11:40 am

I came to Laura's work long after the reveal and never understood what all the fuss regarding the authors true (LOL!) identity was about. I simply enjoy her work for what it is: well written stories about current society written in a timeless fashion. These are stories that will be remembered and cherished long after the shrill voices of her critics are long forgotten.

Posted by Paul on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 3:42 pm

Bravo Laura Albert!
Where would Art be if not for the courage and imagination of artists like Laura who can so fully place herself into a. personna other than her own

Posted by Fayette on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 3:45 pm

I thank Laura Albert for showing the world what a writer really consists of and powering on through to win the recognition that was always truly hers with dignity.

We all can learn a lot from this extremely inspiring & resolute woman & outstanding writer.

Posted by Wilfred on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 4:25 pm

Keep on going, don't look back, the best is yet to come!

Posted by Wilfred on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

It is heartening to read intelligent analysis (the commenters here on SFBG) and straightforward journalism (Cheryl Eddy via SFBG)! Fiction deserves critique- that part is fine- critique her writing (seems many have and we know the verdict)(I have never read a commenter who claims they read her work and said it was poor writing). But whether you know her character in person....has nothing to do with anything. If Laura comes, or comes as JT- you will get HER. The actual her. Meet her in person; I have. Make time to talk to her- I have; better- make time to listen. Even if you have never read her books, but are interested in a person to rock your world and imagination- meet her. People don't even know that she lives her work, yet separates, understanding she write fiction, and also contributes to communities similar to her own upbringing- in authentic time- whether you know it/believe it/care or give a damn about it, or not, because it's done under the radar. (now ya do know). I admire her because she's shown consistency in not attracting attention to Laura- trying to keep focus on JT and the work, just like she does in the community, in this day of "reality" and attracting attention perennially to self- she tried to attract away. Refreshing! As an aside- she's as funny, sharp-witted and has perfect timing in her story telling. You feel like souls met- there's a whole other part about art and Affleck's comment- but I'll stop here!

Posted by Orpheus Crutchfield on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

Samuel Taylor Coleridge did opium. Ken Kesey did psychedelics. William S. Burroughs did heroin. Stephen King did coke. Dash Hanmett did booze.

Laura Albert did JT LeRoy.

Whatever it takes for a writer to write.

Posted by Dash on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

I didn't care who wrote the books - they spoke to me and I loved them. But finding out a punk-rock girl created a character who then created the books, that was epic. When the world wakes up and realizes just how cool that really was, I'll be there holding hands with JT and laughing ;) Till then, enjoy the circus. Love you Laura LeRoy Albert whoever/wherever you are!

Posted by BJK on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 5:41 pm

I didn't care who wrote the books - they spoke to me and I loved them. But finding out a punk-rock girl created a character who then created the books, that was epic. When the world wakes up and realizes just how cool that really was, I'll be there holding hands with JT and laughing ;) Till then, enjoy the circus. Love you Laura LeRoy Albert whoever/wherever you are!

Posted by BJK on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

Lovely to read a thoughtful interview today.
Laura Arnold has been under the radar for awhile and
I think it's time for her to be re-discovered by the masses.
Luckily there's one of her films screening tomorrow at the Clay.

Posted by lynn friedman on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 6:01 pm

dooh, I meant Laura Albert

Posted by lynn friedman on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 6:18 pm

I like the ending: "JT was my lifeboat. You loved him? Well, I loved him more." It's interesting to see how this has affected her life; this article shows that struggle and the peace that she is finding. Keep on flashing!

Posted by roger knoren on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 7:05 pm

Laura's work is amazing. Period. Laura is amazing. Period. I read her work and am always moved. I applaud this thoughtful piece. So happy people are getting "it". She is a real gem of writer and a human.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 10:40 pm

Fabulous article - thanks to Cheryl Eddy and SFBG.
Fabulous author and person extraordinaire- thanks to Laura Albert.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 6:49 am

Almost ironically, Laura is peace in a turbulent world. Read, enjoy, love.

Posted by EW on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 7:33 am

Through Laura's cathartic release of darkness, as she channels JT, she has reached a truth which allows those who connect to discover their own light. This is a true gift of writing which she has given us.

Posted by Glenn on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 7:40 am

Before the reveal, JT was like Peter Pan's shadow, detached and lost from its owner. The reveal simply stitched them back together, as subject and shadow should be. A shadow does not exist without shining light upon its subject, so keep the criticism and adulation coming, because when those stop, the shadow no longer exists, and we lose something precious. Having had the pleasure of Laura at our dinner table on many an evening, one realizes that life is fiction, and Laura is still writing hers...

Posted by Guest on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 9:08 am

I've loved JT LeRoy's books for years now and I had the pleasure of talking with Laura Albert before -- she is lovely, very intelligent but above all, she's inspired me to stay on my own path as a writer. She is unapologetic and that's why I admire her so much and it's what made me handle better my recent public exposure as an artist (I published a non-fiction account of my addiction). But that's Laura Albert. Aside from Laura Albert there are three (including Harold's End) beautiful books written with one of the most original, awe-inspiring voices that I've ever read and that's really what counts here. All that other gossipy stuff is just a distraction, and anyone who reads the books will forget all about all those distractions. Little trolls, don't be shallow, read some good books and get over yourself.

Posted by Jowita Bydlowska on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 9:11 am

I've loved JT LeRoy's books for years now and I had the pleasure of talking with Laura Albert before -- she is lovely, very intelligent but above all, she's inspired me to stay on my own path as a writer. She is unapologetic and that's why I admire her so much and it's what made me handle better my recent public exposure as an artist (I published a non-fiction account of my addiction). But that's Laura Albert. Aside from Laura Albert there are three (including Harold's End) beautiful books written with one of the most original, awe-inspiring voices that I've ever read and that's really what counts here. All that other gossipy stuff is just a distraction, and anyone who reads the books will forget all about all those distractions. Little trolls, don't be shallow, read some good books and get over yourself.

Posted by Jowita Bydlowska on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 9:12 am

Great article! AMAZING BOOK! Laura Albert created something very original. And all the crap that has happened to her because of that needs to be set right. Her work is healing for many. I had the chance to meet her and she herself is a healer. I hope many will have the chance to experience this with the upcoming projects!

Posted by verushka on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

Great article, AMAZING BOOK! Laura Albert"s work is important for many. I had the luck to meet her in person, she is amazing, Her work is healing, she herself is a healer. And other people shall have the chance to discover and experience it! GOOD LUCK WITH THE NEW PROJECTS!

Posted by verushka on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

Amazing miss Laura Albert

Posted by Guest on Jun. 28, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

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