The author at the center of an elaborate literary hoax is finally coming clean — or so she says.
Laura Albert, 40, a New York City native, is acknowledging that she is JT LeRoy, the supposed male author of gritty, graphic, best-selling novels like "Sarah" and "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things," which was made into a film.
In a story in The Paris Review's fall issue, Albert admits that she invented the character in therapy. Her psychiatrist encouraged her to write down her stories.
"I wish I could've had my own voice," she told The Associated Press at a tea party Wednesday in San Francisco. "It's not unusual that people can't be themselves."
When an admirer approached and asked her to sign a book, she asked whose autograph the man wanted. "I've gotten the JT LeRoy signature down," she said, laughing.
LeRoy is a purported 25-year-old former male prostitute and drug addict born in 1980 who drew from his own experiences hustling, living on the streets and selling sex for his literary work.
Albert is a tall, slender woman with dainty features and auburn curls. She wore a Renaissance-style gown with black leather gloves and a corset at the soiree, where about 30 friends had gathered.
"I'm proud of the work. JT saved my life and JT saved many other lives," she said. "People talk about the authenticity of the books. Those are my experiences."
Maintaining the ruseLeRoy grabbed the attention of authors Tobias Wolff, Dave Eggers and others. He spent hundreds of hours on the phone with director Gus Van Sant and helped him with the screenplay for "Elephant."
Then LeRoy started appearing in public — usually wearing hats, wigs and sunglasses. Famous friends read his work in public because his crippling shyness supposedly made it impossible.
Some wondered aloud whether LeRoy existed. Or whether some famous author was doing the heavy lifting.
But last October, an article in New York magazine truly began the unraveling. It suggested that LeRoy didn't exist and that Albert, a former phone sex worker, was doing the writing. A few months later, The New York Times revealed the woman who posed as LeRoy in public was Savannah Knoop, the half-sister of Geoffrey Knoop, Albert's now-estranged partner.
Even then, Albert continued to deny her true identity. In a January phone interview with the AP, someone claiming to be LeRoy maintained the ruse.
"Laura is not me. I am not Laura," the person said at the time. "I'm a writer, I'm not Laura."
Albert acknowledged Wednesday the voice on the phone was hers.
When asked if she felt any shame about misleading people, she replied: "I bleed, but it's a different kind of shame... If knowing that I'm 15 years older than (LeRoy) devalues the work, then I'm sorry they feel that way."