For friends and readers who have found this literary incident perplexing, I share links to some commentary. What do you think?
• Who Is the Bad Art Friend? (Robert Kolker, NY Times Magazine, 10-5-21) Art often draws inspiration from life — but what happens when it’s your life? Inside the curious case of Dawn Dorland v. Sonya Larson. This is the 10,000-word article that started it all. "It includes all the hot-button topics for writing and publishing: questions of artistic license, plagiarism, and copyright; status anxiety in the literary world; gossipy writing groups; social media use; and race."
• The Short Story at the Center of the “Bad Art Friend” Saga (Katy Waldman, New Yorker, 10-10-21) "On Twitter, where much of the “Bad Art Friend” debate has flourished, my colleague Helen Rosner observes a “tension between writers who define themselves via their writing and writers who define themselves via ‘being a writer.’ ” To me, the slippage between these two categories gives the Dorland-Larson saga its heat. When you put a person’s life in your art, you risk misrepresenting them. But when you put another writer’s life in your art, you commit a kind of proleptic plagiarism—you steal their material. A growing interest, in some publishing circles, in “own voices” and “lived experience” intensifies this dynamic: a premium is placed on authors’ personal familiarity with the worlds they summon. There’s a corresponding sense that the person who inhabited a story in real life should get the first crack at fictionalizing it."
• Bad Art Friend and how getting dragged into art doesn’t always feel like a compliment (Emily Donaldson, Globe & Mail, 11-1-21) As a slew of recent viral examples prove, writers borrowing from the real world for their fiction can lead to some unexpectedly thorny outcomes.
• What ‘Bad Art Friend’ and the Facebook whistleblower say about our ‘connected’ lives (Christine Emba, Washington Post, 10-9-21) On Oct. 5, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen gave the Senate damning testimony about her former employer, and the New York Times Magazine published a nearly 10,000-word piece by Robert Kolker about two feuding writers and an organ donation. Both events went viral. And both painted an unflattering picture of how the social media giant is affecting our everyday lives. It makes a weird sort of sense that “Who Is the Bad Art Friend?” and Haugen’s Senate takedown debuted on the same day. Both were cautionary tales about the insidiousness of social media — Facebook in particular.
• How Bad Art Friend Became Twitter’s Favorite Parlor Game (Robert Kolker, Times Insider, NY Times, 10-20-21) The email was straightforward: She believed she'd been plagiarized in a short story by another writer named Sonya Larson. Now they were in court. Kolker explains how he approached his reporting and what he thought about the online discourse around the story. His article on a literary quarrel between Dawn Dorland and Sonya Larson was a popular subject of conversation on social media.
• Grub Street Tackles 'Art Friend' Fallout (Alex Green, Publishers Weekly, 11-1-21) While the nonprofit organization was not directly involved in the controversy, its employees and board members were. Among others, Sonya Larson has departed from her role heading up the annual Muse & Marketplace conference. Artistic director Christopher Castellani has asked for forgiveness and remains with the organization. (H/T The Hot Sheet)
• 'Bad art friend': should fiction writers ever lift stories from other people's lives? (The Guardian, 10-6-21) Great writers have always been inspired by friends and lovers, but a viral article has revived the moral arguments around muses. In the age of the internet, does using someone else’s story feel like a violation? Does this story have a moral? Yes: it's that writers are terrible people and you should cut them all from your life immediately. OK, so can I tell my story now?
And again, what do you think?