A quick take on the wild tale of Jumi Bello
So I certainly don’t read Literary Hub every day. For one thing, I would get nothing else done. They have a ton of articles and many of them are long, informative and interesting. But this morning I dipped my toe into an article called “I Plagiarized Parts of My Debut Novel. Here’s Why.” And this is what I was greeted with.
A statement on retracting Jumi Bello’s essay.
Earlier this morning, Lit Hub published a very personal essay by Jumi Bello about her experience writing a debut novel, her struggles with severe mental illness, the self-imposed pressures a young writer can feel to publish, and her own acts of plagiarism. Because of inconsistencies in the story and, crucially, a further incident of plagiarism in the published piece, we decided to pull the essay.
Tell me I can’t read something and I now want to read it
Now I have to find the essay. The Wayback Machine failed me. Luckily, someone on Twitter found me a link. And let me tell you, plagiarism is the least of Jumi’s issues. Before I talk about that, though, let’s pour one out for the poor editor at Lit Hub, who dropped the ball. I am sure the fine folks at Lit Hub have that fancy software that can read a submission and check for plagiarism. Do they use it on every submission? Apparently not. Should they perhaps use it on a submission from someone whose debut novel was cancelled because she was guilty of plagiarism? I let you decide. I have a feeling someone at Lit Hub is having a serious case of the Mondays.
Advocating for BIPOC voices
Speaking of Twitter… Overall, I behaved myself. I am not looking to make enemies here. I certainly understand how this is a sad situation all the way around. That said. Miss Bello certainly makes it hard to sympathize. Leaving aside the apparent inability to write more than a paragraph without utilizing CTRL C.
Let’s look at some quotes
When I come home after roughly a week, I send the first twenty pages of my book to two recommended agents. I would have sent more, but that’s all I had written. I schedule myself a psychiatric evaluation at the university. The psychiatrist tells me, you must check yourself into a hospital immediately. Both agents ask for my full manuscript.
My thesis advisor tells me, you have a novel and you need to query more agents, and I do, and then to my horror, every single person I queried with my sample pages asks for the full manuscript.
Okay, Lit Hub. I am not telling you how to do your jobs. But certainly you can see the red flags above. A first-time author sending the first twenty pages of her book to various agents and they all respond back in a timely manner with quick get me the full manuscript? Pan’s Labyrinth would have rejected that as a plot thread for being too unbelievable.
Well, at least her student loans will be forgiven?
A few days after I leave the psychiatric ward at the beginning of my second year of graduate school, I make a compromise with my therapist. I agree to attend a day program for the psychiatric hospital while attending my fiction workshop at night.
In some deep, dark, and probably Republican recess of my mind, this is how I picture all thirty-year-old grad students. Particularly in a liberal arts degree program. Jumi Bello is the poster child to why so many mainstream Democrats are hesitant for a blanket forgiveness of student debt. One does not have to dig deep to find the Jumi Bello’s of the world. They have thier own webpages and twitter feeds.
Leaving that political football aside. We also have the minefield that is mental illness. Now let me state without hesitation I believe that Jumi Bello suffers from mental illness. She speaks openly about her suicidal tendencies and struggles and none of those well-written paragraphs are, as far as I know, subject to the plagiarism claims. (In fact, apparently, it was her history of plagiarism section that got her in trouble. Irony, hold my beer.)
Am I the Asshole?
One just has to read her painful recollections of her struggles with mental illness to wonder if Lit Hub would have been better off simply removing the article with no explanation. I question my own motives as well. What is it about this story that makes me want to give my two cents? This is a real person who is clearly suffering. And here I am punching down with the rest of them.
The suicidal mind is more lucid than the world realizes. For the suicidal mind is the patient mind, the one that has been waiting and the waiting is not for the suicide, but for the suffering to end. It’s a hopeful ideation, a kind of passive survivalist mindset. I do not believe the suicidal person ultimately wants to die. The suicidal person wants the suffering to end.
And here we are talking and pointing.
Some notes and a video
LitHub what exactly is the difference between a very personal essay and just a regular personal essay?
Plagiarizing the plagiarizing part of your essay about how you plagiarized is simply an attractive nuisance.
In my tweet above I mention Chicago Hope when I clearly meant to say Grey’s Anatomy as a sly reference to their writer Elisabeth Finch, who was suspended (fired?) for basically making up things like having cancer or having a brother dead from suicide. (Which if we are to be honest, if you are an incorrigible fabulist there are worse professions than TV writer.)
I overall like the essay. It is a bit all over the place. We go from staying at the Bellagio with your husband to a poor black woman with no health insurance practically in the same paragraph. (And then we fly to New York to meet with agents and go into treatment.)
The best lesson about plagiarism I have ever seen is from the show Newhart. An episode call Happy Trails To You where Bob gets sued by a fellow woodworking author who complains both books describe how to cut wood and make shelves. I have included the video below.