Laura Albert is the author of three extremely popular novels – Sarah, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, and Harold’s End – published under the name JT LeRoy. JT was Albert’s avatar, freeing her to craft a new voice in fiction, until 2006, when The New York Times revealed her to be the actual writer of the books. Albert had ingeniously hacked the literary establishment, and today enthusiasm for her writing – as JT and under her own name – continues to grow internationally. Jeffrey Deitch’s characterization of the JT LeRoy saga as “one of the most interesting contributions to art and literature of the past 20 years” is supported by such recent activities as Albert’s speaking engagement at The Moth and the hit Brazilian musical “JT, A Punk Fairy Tale.” Proclaimed “the indie fashion fighter” by the SF Chronicle, she has attended literary events and judged at film festivals worldwide, including Diane Pernet’s A Shaded View On Fashion Film. Laura Albert responded to LASTBLOG’s questions, emailing from San Francisco about her experience writing as JT LeRoy, some of her upcoming projects, and how her creative process has changed since she began publishing work under her own name.
LASTBLOG: What do you think it was about LeRoy that the audience connected to so fiercely? Laura Albert: Because the narrator in those books is someone who has everything taken away from him, right down to his gender and his name. People identify with that experience of loss and helplessness, no matter how much they may possess at the moment; and they empathize when the books try to transform that suffering. JT represents an archetype of the transcendence of suffering, and it resonates with people.
LASTBLOG: Do you think you would have eventually revealed yourself as LeRoy? Do you wish the reveal was on your own terms? LA: Looking back on it, I realize now that I was ready — I had come out to a bunch of people. But at the time, I couldn’t imagine life without JT. We could be separated only like they separate conjoined twins: with a knife.
“Art is the opportunity to change the way you think, which means you can never be fooled…” – Laura Albert
LASTBLOG: What do you think of the notion that you “fooled” people by writing as JT LeRoy? Does writing under another name automatically mean you are trying to fool your audience? LA: It had nothing to do with fooling anybody about anything. In most of the important ways, JT was more real to me then than I was: I understood him better and loved him more readily and forgave him more easily than I did myself. And no audience for any work of art needs to worry about being fooled. Art is the opportunity to change the way you think, which means you can never be fooled — you either have that experience or you don’t, and you can always tell too! Everything else is just packaging, and packaging is the first thing people throw away. LASTBLOG: How did writing as JT LeRoy effect your creative process? Has it changed since you’ve stopped writing as LeRoy? LA: Writing as JT LeRoy used to BE my creative process, at least when it came to writing fiction. Now it’s a whole new ballgame. In order to write without JT, I have to be willing to listen to myself, as open and free of judgment as I would listen to a stranger. I have to be willing to let myself into a state of grace. And it’s still a struggle.
LASTBLOG: Can you tell us about any projects you’re working on going forward? LA: I’ve reissued my novel Sarah as an e-book and I’m writing a book about my experiences before, during, and after JT.I am also the Director of Strategic Development for Project Level, the San Francisco arts program for at-risk youth, which was started by the multi-talented “Big Rich” Bougere and Danielle Banks.