Rat out a plagerist?
January 28, 2011 11:36 AM Subscribe
A grad school friend of mine submitted a short story for a major literary magazine competition and won. It also seems she plagiarized the work. I'm not sure how to handle this or her subsequent behavior.
posted by mizrachi to Writing & Language (51 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A week after winning the award she called in a panic to tell me she thought she'd unconsciously borrowed from an already published piece. She sent me both pieces and, except for the character names and the exact wording, the stories were very, very similar...similar in shape, concept, story arc, narrative, beats, etc. In fact, a handful of lines were directly lifted. It was basically the same story. And entirely the same idea.
Since my friend is fragile who easily turns hostile, and since I avoid conflict with her as much as possible, I agreed when she suggested that she notify the editor of the journal. I even helped her write the letter to the editor. The story was revoked, the winner now the second place entry.
Obviously, my friend did not want word of this to spread. She kept mentioning her integrity, how this could jeopardize her academic or creative career, how embarrassed she was, and how big of a deal the department had made about this award. She assured me that she was unaware she had "borrowed" from the previously published work. And, for the most part, I believed her.
A few days later she mentioned that she was also up for a major prize at the university. The prize is based on one's publication record, among other things, and she was afraid that if they found out she hadn't won the lit award she wouldn't win the university prize. She approached the dept head - who, herself, is unprofessional and often entangled in drama -- and was assured that everything was fine. In describing the interaction, she told me the department head "had her back." The only other professor she told promised "not to mention it to anyone."
Needless to say, she won the University Prize.
All of this is lousy but today I was told by a former close friend of hers that she'd admitted to "rewriting" a story from an obscure journal for a writing workshop about a year ago. She told her friend that the journal was so obscure no one would recognize the original piece. She said she changed enough of the story to make it less obvious. And she later went on to say the work was well received by the class and the professor.
So, my friend has either plagiarized twice or once and lied to me, an editor, two professors, and, possibly, herself. I feel taken advantage of but I'm not sure if raising this to her would be productive. In the end, she did sort of come clean to the editor, a few friends,and the professors, regardless of how she sold it, and the story will not be published,. But, am I obliged to alert the university? And, how, if at all, would you handle this with her?