Lee Israel's Literary Forgery

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It can be tough for writers to cobble together a living, so I’m always fascinated by stories of the ones who jettison the safety of a day job and insist on making their words pay the bills. Vice’srecent interview with Lee Israel, included in the Fiction Issue, paints an extreme version of this portrait. After publishing two best-selling biographies in the 70s, Israel bombed a third attempt and found herself scrambling to make ends meet. Her solution? Literary forgery: She penned and sold fake letters by literary giants like Louise Brooks and Edna Ferber, keeping at it for two years before finally getting caught.

The story of the hoax makes for good reading, but the interview is also intriguing because Vice doesn’t care much about weighing in on the ethics of Israel’s actions. Without the burden of moral outrage, Vice is able to explore the episode from other angles. The interviewer treats the letters as literary works, so many of the questions deal with Israel’s writerly process–her research techniques, for instance, or the pains she took to replicate an author’s tone. A few of the original letters are reprinted alongside the interview, so you can judge their merits yourself.

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