Remember last month’s hoopla when Brad Vice’s short story collection was pulled (and his literary prize rescinded) over a series of unacknowledged borrowings from Carl Carmer’s Stars Fell on Alabama? At the time, Vice admitted to “a terrible error in judgment by omitting to acknowledge this due to my ignorance concerning the principles of fair use.” In this week’s New York Press, novelist Robert Clark Young is suggesting that Vice’s ignorance runs pretty deep, because he’s found another story in The Bear Bryant Funeral Train that has multiple echoes of another writer’s work, as he lays the short story “Report from Junction” next to Jim Dent’s Bear Bryant bio The Junction Boys. And the problem isn’t just with the collection:
“I have also found that ‘Tuscaloosa Knights’ and ‘Report from Junction’—complete with their plagiarized contents—both appear in the dissertation that Vice produced for his doctoral degree at the University of Cincinnati in 2001. A public document that anyone can download from the university library website, the dissertation now sits on the hard drives of Dr. Karen L. Gould, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Leland S. Person, chairman of the English department. These University of Cincinnati officials have launched their own investigation of Vice.”*
In his defense, though, Vice could point out that—by her own admission (in the comments section)—his dissertation director told him it was okay to lift the material, or at the very least didn’t tell him not to when he said he was going to do it. “Issues of intertextuality, embedded narratives, and literary borrowing and homage were very much in the critical air through the 1990s,” says Erin McGraw, and that apparently makes Vice’s borrowings acceptable as far as she’s concerned. You may recall that I called this tactic the Kathy Acker defense; I’d clarify now to add that I highly doubt Vice is or intended his work to be seen as anywhere near that experimental.
Young also delves into “Vice’s campaign to become the best-adored, best-appreciated and best-deserving young fiction writer in the history of Southern letters” by getting on the good side of everybody who was anybody at Sewanee, but that’s a side issue to the real story, I think, which is what the hell they’re teaching kids in MFA programs these days, and whether Vice will have any sort of career that involves creative writing by the time all the probes are finished. Of course, there’s always pseudonyms…
*Simmer down, Beavis.