Have you read the viral New York Times story that’s sweeping the nation (Twitter)? It’s called “Who Is the Bad Art Friend,” and it’s pretty good. 3.9/5 stars. Our own Jenny G. Zhang summed it up nicely, if you’re in need of a precis:
Dawn Dorland, an unpublished author, donated a kidney via a nondirected donation, in which the organ goes to a stranger in need, and added her friends and acquaintances to a Facebook group she created about the fact. Sonya Larson, a more successful writer whom Dorland one-sidedly considered a “friend,” wrote a short story that was inspired (not in an admiring way) by Dorland’s kidney donation and subsequent frequent posts about her act of altruism. Not only that, but Larson — in an original version of her story — used words that Dorland wrote, almost verbatim, in the form of a letter to the recipient of the kidney. Dorland, upset by both the inspiration/plagiarism as well as what she likely perceived to be a betrayal of friendship (which was, again, pretty much one-sided), attempted to get Larson to pay damages via a lawsuit against a book festival. Larson sued back. Dorland filed a counterclaim. Larson accused Dorland of harassing a writer of color (herself). Mean group chats were subpoenaed. It turned into a real fucking mess. Oh, and Dorland, it must be noted, was apparently the one to pitch this whole saga to reporter Robert Kolker, who ended up writing about it for the Times.
As a blog about the zeitgeist, Gawker has done two posts about the article since it came out on Tuesday: One advising readers to never pitch stories about themselves, and another offering the “last word” on the kerfuffle (from which I copy and pasted the summary above).
I guess this should come as no surprise, but on Thursday Dawn Dorland reached out to Gawker and requested extensive corrections to the posts. So, in the interest of transparency, here’s what she said.
Dear Ms. Zhang, Ms. Silver, Ms. Finnegan, and Ms. Craighead,
Thank you for being willing to consider corrections for the following inaccuracies in two Gawker articles published Oct 6, 2021. The articles I’ve identified are 1. “Don’t Ever Pitch a Story About Yourself What the Fuck” by Olivia Craighead (whom I messaged on Twitter and gave me permission to loop into this correspondence) and 2. “The Last Word on that ‘Bad Art Friend’ Story” story by Ms. Zhang (thanks so much for writing me back).
1. Ms. Craighead’s article:
…contacted every institution Larson had worked with… This is false. I made a limited set of inquiries in the summer of 2018 to places that Larson might have submitted “The Kindest,” based on the timeline in which I understood Sonya had crafted and submitted her short story containing a recognizable copy of my letter. If Sonya had profited from a story that contained my work, I thought I deserved to know. I did not even identify Larson in some of these contacts but rather asked about the process at each organization for their fielding a plagiarism (infringement) claim.
…lawyered up… Sonya Larson retained a lawyer before I did. I retained a lawyer only when the BBF refused to provide me with the revised text that they intended to publish and distribute for the 1C1S program as a result of my plagiarism (infringement) claim, and then told me to cease contact.
…from her starting this whole thing to begin with. Sonya Larson’s copying my letter into her story started this.
…until those texts were subpoenaed. The correspondence included in the Kolker article was discoverable because of the litigation Sonya initiated against me in January 2019 (in response to my invitation in late 2018 to mediate or arbitrate our copyright dispute with a low-cost legal arts service). I did not subpoena any of Sonya’s correspondence. Sonya, because she sued me for defamation and other tort claims after I asserted legal rights to my letter, was required to produce relevant documents in relation to her lawsuit against me.
2. Ms. Zhang’s article:
…an unpublished author… I am published.
…about the fact… I created my private/secret Facebook group to have support while I prepared for my surgery.
…attempted to get Larson to pay damages via a lawsuit against a book festival. I never filed a lawsuit against the BBF (nor did I initiate litigation against Sonya). Our settlement negotiations in the summer of 2018 were not around the matter of “damages” but around the possibility of the BBF obtaining a limited-use license for my letter if they intended to publish and distribute it.
Larson sued back. I did not initiate litigation in this dispute. Sonya Larson initiated litigation, against me and my lawyer and the law firm that had represented me, in January 2019. I filed a counterclaim in 2020.
Mean group chats were subpoenaed. The correspondence included in the Kolker article was discoverable because of the litigation Sonya initiated against me in January 2019 (in response to my invitation in late 2018 to mediate or arbitrate our copyright dispute with a low-cost legal arts service). I did not subpoena any of Sonya’s correspondence. Sonya, because she sued me for defamation and other tort claims after I asserted legal rights to my letter, was required to produce relevant documents in relation to her lawsuit against me.
Context for my 2015 email to Sonya Larson in “Who is the Bad Art Friend?” (germane to both articles):
In 2015 I disclosed my kidney donation to Sonya Larson because I trusted her, adding her to a private/secret Facebook group that I convened for about two dozen far-flung friends and family ahead of my kidney retrieval surgery in June. My purpose was to have support as I prepared for my donor nephrectomy, and to provide information, FAQ-like, for this small group to whom I’d disclosed medical information. Ahead of my surgery, metrics within the Facebook group interface were automatically telling me (under each post) that Sonya was consuming all of the material, but she was otherwise not engaging with me or the group. I was focused at this time on preparing for my surgery, which was scheduled more quickly than my team at UCLA had anticipated. I thought I’d allow Sonya room to have whatever reaction she was having—I got some weird reactions!—and I wasn’t sure what that Facebook metric actually meant, so I didn’t jump to any conclusions. But Sonya’s behavior was unique in the group, and it started to worry me a little in July after I had recovered from surgery. Ahead of my posting publicly about my donation as an advocate, six weeks later in August, I reached out to Sonya to gauge what was going on. My private/secret Facebook group was, ultimately, a place where I shared private medical information with a group of people whom I thought I could trust. It was also the only place I shared my letter to the recipient at the end of my donation chain, the copyright of which is at the center of this dispute.
Thanks again, everyone, for considering these corrections and context. Let me know if you have any questions at all.
Dawn Dorland, MTS, MFA
I check email once daily at noon.
Hope that clears things up.