For anyone who loves stories, one of true joys in life is the discovery of a great new writer whose stories grab you deep in the gut and refuse to let go. While there are tons of books published each year by beginning writers, only a few of these books scream that THIS is a writer who is destined for great things. As a result, when you discover a great writer at the beginning of their career, you have found one of the rarest joys in life.
Unfortunately, though, over the last week this joy has been shoved back down my throat. The reason: Brad Vice, one of the most talented new writers to appear in the last few years, has been given the shaft by his publisher for what appears to be an honest mistake.
First, the background.
Brad Vice’s first collection of short stories, The Bear Bryant Funeral Train, won the Flannery O'Connor Award for short fiction from the University of Georgia Press a year ago and was recently published. The book is an excellent debut collection of fiction which appealed to me not only for Vice’s powerful writing but also for his unique look at the south. As someone who was born and raised in Alabama, I especially loved how Vice tied the central cultural figure from my youth—football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant—into the core of his stories.
I vividly remember the day the Bear died. Just as some people remember where they were when John F. Kennedy died, so do most Alabamians remember where they were when the University of Alabama’s legendary coach passed away. By tying his book into the mythology of Bear Bryant, Vice created stories that transcend the limited scope of so much of what passes for short fiction in today’s world. I know many other readers agreed with me because Vice’s book picked up positive reviews from around the country.
But just as every great story has a downfall, so too does the story of The Bear Bryant Funeral Train. Brad wrote one of the stories in the collection, “Tuscaloosa Knights,” in homage to Carl Carmer’s classic book, Stars Fell on Alabama. (Vice’s short story is reprinted on storySouth’s sister publication Thicket.) Specifically, Vice based his short story on a chapter in the book called “Tuscaloosa Nights" (and in particular a four-page section of that chapter called "The Flaming Cross," which describes a 1930s Ku Klux Klan rally in Tuscaloosa, Alabama). Vice’s story runs about twenty pages and closely follows some of Carmer’s dialogue and description (while using different characters and situations). Vice is quoted as saying that he used some of Carmer’s dialog because, “As a nonfiction resource, the dialogue had a truth value outside of Carmer’s text."
Unfortunately for Vice, he forgot to acknowledge that the story borrowed material from Carmer’s classic book. Soon a readers' adviser to the Tuscaloosa Public Library discovered this and raised concerns about the story. Vice’s publisher, fearing what might be unleashed, voided out his fiction prize and plans to destroy all of the books. In addition, Vice is now facing the possible loss of his teaching job at Mississippi State University.
In a day or two, my co-editor Jake Adam York will examine whether this copyright concern is truly valid. To me, though, the fact that Vice titled his story as an obvious play on Carmer’s original chapter title, and the fact that he acknowledged in interviews that the story was in homage to Carmer’s, shows that this was not an attempt to plagiarize the original story. Instead, Carmer was taking the time-honored route of updating and commenting upon a classic literary story. This is the same path recently taken by Pulitzer Prize winning author Suzan-Lori Parks when she wrote Getting Mother's Body, which is an updated version of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.
Carl Carmer’s book is an American, and Southern, literary classic, and the section that Vice based his story on is the most famous part in the book. What Vice did is similar to someone writing a story based on William Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy—i.e., the source material of the story should be well-known to his audience (such as readers of southern literature). If I wrote a short story based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet (as author Tom Stoppard did with his famous book Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead), no one would question the validity of my story.
The problem, of course, is that even though Carmer’s book came out more than six decades ago, it is still under copyright (yet again, my co-editor will examine whether Vice actually violated the original book’s copyright). However, copyright generally does not prevent an author from commenting upon and basing another story upon that work. In fact, Alice Randall did just this with her novel The Wind Done Gone, which was based on the classic, and copyrighted, text of Gone with the Wind (Go here to read Houghton Mifflin’s defense of their publication of The Wind Done Gone). Yes, Vice should have included a small acknowledgement in the front of the book about how the story was based on Carmer’s work, but he is a young author and thought 1) He was covered by fair use; and 2) That the source material would be evident to anyone familiar with southern literature.
This brings me to what really infuriates me about this case: How Brad Vice was let down by the University of Georgia Press. Vice is a young writer who forgot to acknowledge his story’s inspiration source. However, the University of Georgia Press has no excuse. (For a short version of the Press’s response, go here.) The Press could have found other ways to fix this situation instead of simply revoking Vice's prize and destroying his book and reputation.
I know this because I used to be a senior editor at Meadowbrook Press, a commercial publishing company distributed by Simon & Schuster. Once, while working on an anthology of quotations, I discovered that a previous editor had forgotten to request permission for several sections of another of our company’s anthologies. To make amends, I contacted the author whose copyright we had violated, explained the situation, and offered payment to use the material. We then placed an errata insert page into all remaining copies of this anthology and added the copyright mention into future editions of the anthology.
I'm sure that the University of Georgia Press could have done a similar thing, resulting in all parties going away happy. In addition, if the issue is so serious to the University of Georgia Press, why didn’t their editors notice it prior to publication? I would think that the editors of Brad Vice’s book should have been familiar enough with southern literature to know that his story was playing off of Carl Carmer’s famous book.
To repeat, Brad Vice should have placed an acknowledgement in his book. Yes, he made a mistake. However, fault also rests with the University of Georgia Press, who should have searched for other ways to fix this problem instead of reaching for the nuclear destruction of an author and his book.
As I said before, there is a long tradition in fiction of authors borrowing or adapting older literary works to make new points and raise new issues (with Getting Mother's Body, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and The Wind Done Gone being only a few of the recent examples of this). Brad Vice thought he was following in the path of these novels with this short story. He should not be strung up for believing this and forgetting to add that one acknowledgement.
Because of the actions of the University of Georgia Press, The Bear Bryant Funeral Train is no longer available in most bookstores. However, if you can find a copy, I strongly suggest you purchase it in support of Vice. I also urge people to write e-mails or letters of support to Mississippi State University, which has opened an investigation of Vice that could result in him losing his job. Since this is an academic process, formal snail-mail letters of support are encouraged. Address and send letters to: Richard Raymond, Professor and Department Head, English Department, 316 Lee Hall, Mississippi State, MS 39762. You can also e-mail him at email@example.com.
Comments policy: storySouth invites comments from its readers. The comment period for postings in this forum will last for one week. We will publish one comment per reader, with exceptions in special circumstances. The editors will respond to comments, if appropriate, after the comment period is over.
Unbelievable. I can't believe the U of GA publisher didn't at least stick up for Brad.
I am a fan of Southern Literature and had seen a review of Brad vice's book a few weeks back. I'd been intending to pick up a copy and hate that I won't. I did read his story at the link and it is really good. Shame what he's gone through.
Jason, I'm in full agreement with you on this, and am reading the thread you started on Zoetrope on this issue. I will say that I'm fully familiar with literary lynchings, having been the victim of one on Zoetrope since 2001. I'm sure you've heard much of the flap, about a story I was supposed to have "stolen" there. NONE of my story was verbatim with the other story, although it was an attempt to improve the basic tale, with a different ending, fewer characters and a wholly different take. I'd discussed my plot in the old Zoetrope chat when I was in the construction of an outline for the story. Next thing I know another story is up with the basic idea. I then did my own story and was ultimately banned for plagiarism. To this day many on Zoe feel I am a "self-admitted plagiarist." Yet, in NONE of my 80+ stories or 3 novels, including a dozen published stories, has there EVER been a claim of theft. I've been repeatedly banned from Zoe and must work there incognito. I stay simply because the site benefits me as a writer. I've been accused of everything else from threatening emails (false) to mass baby killing (I was compared with a baby killer by one poster). There are levels of plagiarism, from outright verbatim theft to improper citation to inadvertent influence. To this day I can swear I never stole anyone's work. The story in question was round filed years ago.
DH "Hank" Henry
I think it is reprehensible what has happened to Mr. Vice, and will do whatever I can to show my solidarity. It's the kind of injustice that cannot be allowed to stand.
I located a recent review of "Bear Bryant Funeral Train" in a Japanese newspaper (Oct. 30th):
I agree that the punishment is not commensurate with the offence. I also agree that his editors should have caught the references and provided acknowledgements. However, Vice is not just a 'young writer'. He's an academic, an English teacher at a university, and should be aware of how to avoid a charge of plagiarism.
Vice apparently acknowledged his debt to Case in interviews, which suggests his ommission was inadvertent and stemmed, perhaps, from the feeling of a specialist that Case's work is better known than it is. I think a very good argument can be made that there was no intention to appropriate the work of some one else. I think that your suggestion that the book have an errata slip inserted is probably the best solution.
However, I don't think the situation is quite as straightforward as you seem to think. I teach anthropology at a university. We give Freshmen an hour long lecture on plagiarism. If a freshman turns in an essay without acknowledging using the "language, ideas or thoughts of another author", I call them in, make them re-write with appropriate references. If a senior does the same thing, they receive a zero for the paper and usually fail the course. Universities must take things like this very seriously indeed--more so than commercial publishers.
Gosh you guys, I'm going to have to disagree...I feel really bad for Brad Vice though. But looking at the 2 selections side-by-side, it seems to me a clear cut case of plagiarism:
Carl Carmer thanks for my friend Mary Akers, for the links
I agree with you totally. This is not plagiarism. (Having been a teacher for thirty years, I know that when I see it.) This is artistic appropriation. There's a difference. Yeah, he probably should have made a note somewhere of this, but I bet most short story writers wouldn't. I also think if it weren't an academic press and felt the obligation to make a perfunctory denunciation of "plagiarism," his publisher would have supported him. Some other press should pick up the title.
Jilly, thank you for posting the links. After reading the two selections, I don't think it's plagiarism. Vice uses some of the same images to describe the Klan (the hunting horn, the shoes under the sheets) and paraphrases some of the speeches (the washline, the speaker at the rally) that Carmer uses in his memoir. Plot, characters, focus in the short story have nothing to do with the description Carmer gives of a Klan march. Something comperable might be Raisin in the Sun, the play by Hansberry and the poem by Dubois. A situation and an image are borrowed and something completely, totally, different is made from them.
"Paraphrased some of the speeches?" His main characters use dialog identical to the characters in the other work. Whatever it is, that's not paraphrasing.
It's a pretty clearcut case of plagiarism. The extent of the borrowing is enormous: concepts, characters, dialogue, images--and there is no acknowledgment made of the source. That's all you have to know. Not everything in Vice's story is plagiarized, but you don't need to have two identical texts to have plagiarism, you just need borrowing extensive and obvious enough to raise a flag.
It's not a parody--or a text that riffs off a motif taken from another text, because there is no textual device to signal the borowed nature of the entire scene.
I read through both Vice story and the original story and its obvious that Vice was adapting and expanding the original story. This is not plagiarism. The intent was not there and Vice's story is a wonderful expansion of the original story. Vice has written an amazing story. Hate that he has been torn apart for this.
While it's disappointing to see Brad Vice lose the publication of an entire collection due to an admitted mistake with a citation ommission for one story, what should also be mentioned is that the University of Georgia Press also has to maintain the integrity of the Flannery O'Connor Award. This means, also, protecting the use of Flannery O'Connors name in connection with the award. As someone who lives in Milledgeville, Georgia, and who teaches fiction writing at Georgia College, I am very aware of this concern.
Flannery O'Connor's estate is an entity which is very carefully managed, and it has to be.
As renowned as the UGA Press is, and deservedly so, for how much it has furthered Southern literature and other writing, no one has mentioned that small presses, in particular, are not sufficiently funded to incur legal costs, or to deal with copyright infringment and intellectual property lawsuits.
Simply put, this is more than a union versus confederate battle (other postings I've read here), and there are other points to consider beyond what I've seen posted so far. But please, keep the dialogue running. As writers and publishers, everyone can all learn from what has occurred.
Allen, excellent points on how a small press can be constrained by a budgetary fear of legal costs. For what it's worth, though, Carl Carmer's book Stars Fell on Alabama is kept in print by another small university press, the University of Alabama Press. If the UofGA Press felt any pressure from potential legal action, it would likely have come from the U of Alabama Press (whose director, Daniel J.J. Ross, was quoted in the Tuscaloosa News as saying, "This seems a flagrant case, intentional and indefensible, with the feeble efforts to alter the original all the more blatant evidence of unacknowledged borrowing.") By saying this, the U of Alabama Press put pressure on the U of GA Press to overreact to this situation. This is a shame since they could easily have worked together to handle this to everyone's satisfaction.
Why is it we call Shakespeare the greatest living writer, and not Seneca who came up with the plots, characters, etc. a few hundred years prior? Why is it that we don't call him a plaigerist and burn all the riverside complete texts? Or have we forgotten Seneca? Or never heard of him. After all, ole Will didn't cite either.
Have none of Mr. Vice's accusers read Harold Bloom's "Anxiety of Influence" and follow up, "A Map of Misreading"? Many writers head off influence by accepting it full throttle and rewriting the source. As far as UGA press and the Alabama director, may it burn down with him inside. Literature shouldn't tolerate cowardice or hell raising sycophants lips pursed to the post-mortem posteriors of borrowers/theifs/writers who came before.
I find myself thinking by analogy to Modernist literature--does Eliot use a particular "textual device to signal the borowed nature" of any of his allusions in The Waste Land? I suppose he was only lucky that Baudelaire's literary executors didn't have modern Disney-inspired copyright law when he stole "Hypocrite lecteur! Mon semblable! Mon frere!"
While Vice's story is clearly not parody in the traditional sense, it is a kind of homage and update, and thus does seem to fall into the realm of "transformative use" that has received some play in intellectual property discussions. I think Vice handled it badly by not making the borrowing more overt (by epigraph, etc), but it seems reasonably clear that he didn't intend plagiarism in the normal use of the term (witness his open references to the original in interviews, etc.)
He probably ought to be reprimanded by his department, but shouldn't lose his job. Likewise, UGA is within its rights to withdraw the O'Connor prize, but I agree that there were simpler and less radical fixes to the problem than the one they chose.
I've enjoyed reading these posts. Pasted below is my column on the matter from the November 13 edition of the Mobile Register.
Books Columnist John Sledge
Plagiarism charges pull prize-winner from shelves
Saturday, November 12, 2005
"I knew in the first three or four sentences." So said Tuscaloosa librarian Margaret Butler in a recent telephone interview. She was referring to her discovery of uncredited material in a newly published short-story collection by Alabama native Brad Vice. The fallout so far has been embarrassing and humiliating for Vice and financially damaging to his publisher, The University of Georgia Press, which has recalled all 2,000 copies of the offending book. A pending investigation by Mississippi State University, where Vice is a creative writing professor, could cost the rising young writer his job.
The chain of events that led to Vice's misfortune began when Tuscaloosa Public Library ordered a half-dozen copies of his Flannery O'Connor Award-winning book, "The Bear Bryant Funeral Train." Butler, who professed a fascination with all things Bear Bryant, was immediately attracted to it. But as she read the story "Tuscaloosa Knights," she recognized that it was strikingly similar to a section titled "Tuscaloosa Nights" in Carl Carmer's classic 1934 memoir "Stars Fell on Alabama." Curious, she pulled a copy of Carmer's book, which she said she has read three or four times, and compared it to Vice's story line by line.
In his book, Carmer described a Ku Klux Klan parade down Queen City Avenue: "We heard them coming long before we saw them -- three distant high blasts of a bugle, then a drop of a minor third on a long wailing note." In "Tuscaloosa Knights," Vice writes: "And that's how it began. Three distant notes, high blasts on a bugle, then a drop of a minor third on a long wailing note. It sounded like an English foxhunt. We heard them coming a long time before we saw them."
Astonished by the similarities, Butler was mystified as to why Vice made no reference to or acknowledgment of Carmer. She took the matter to her supervisor, who, she said, got "highly indignant." The supervisor wrote a letter to The University of Georgia Press, with a copy to The University of Alabama Press, which currently holds the copyright to Carmer's book.
Georgia immediately contacted Vice, who, according to a statement issued by the press, admitted that his story "borrows heavily" from Carmer. He also said that he had "made a terrible mistake in neglecting to acknowledge Carmer's work" but that he had done so "without any malicious intent whatsoever." Based on Vice's admission, Georgia revoked his O'Connor Award (which will now be presented to the runner-up) and recalled the book. Next, in a procedure that conjures the ritualistic opening of the 1960s television show "Branded" starring Chuck Connors, the covers will be ripped off and the text pulped, surely the most shameful outcome imaginable for any author.
In an e-mail interview with Vice, he responded to my request to explain what he did: "I borrowed about 20 lines of description from Carmer's book and scattered them through the text of my story because I wanted my characters to see what he saw. Later at the cross burning scene I borrowed a hate speech a Klansman makes. Since I studied Carmer's book as a work of nonfiction I thought this speech had a truth value apart from Carmer ... I thought I was paying homage to Carmer. I worked hard for over fours years on this story. No real writer wants glory for another writer's work. But few of us work from whole cloth, either. I have mentioned Carmer in a public reading of the story at the 2004 Mississippi Philological Association and in print. ... And yet for all this, it doesn't change the fact that because I was ignorant of the rules of fair use I didn't acknowledge him directly in the print acknowledgments of the book. I deeply regret this and I deeply regret any harm and embarrassment I've caused."
Plagiarism is defined as taking ideas, writings, etc. from another and passing them off as one's own. How is it that an English professor with a doctorate degree could be so woefully innocent concerning such a fundamental matter? When I asked him if he had borrowed from any other writers' works, with or without attribution, his answer was revealing: "As a writer, I consider myself a postmodern regionalist, that is, as an artist I have sought to marry the sense of Southern place and identity found in the works of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor with postmodern novels of cultural information and fragmentation popularized by authors such as Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon." Therefore, an enthusiasm for abstract (or some might contend, muddled) theory, could arguably have landed Vice in his difficulty. That's the charitable view.
Don Noble, professor emeritus of English at the University of Alabama, knew Vice as a student and doesn't believe he was up to anything evil. He considers Vice to be "a good person" who made "some kind of terrible misjudgment. I'm terribly sad." Noble said that he hopes those investigating Vice will keep things in perspective. "I don't want to carry the flag for plagiarism" he said, "but maybe we should have a little more nuanced response."
Whatever the final outcome, Vice has already paid a high price. He wrote that he is "devastated" and "exhausted physically, emotionally and spiritually" as well as being "mortified" that those who know him might now consider him to be dishonest. He'll take whatever punishment he has coming, which could be anything from a reprimand to dismissal, but he will continue writing. "I can't help but think that whenever I come out on the other end of this I will still be a writer," he declared.
For her part, Butler is saddened but frank. "I feel badly about it," she said. "But it doesn't change the fact that he's the one that did it. Stealing is stealing."
It now rests with Mississippi State University to decide whether Vice has suffered enough. Whatever the investigation concludes, the affair serves as a stark object lesson in giving credit where credit is due. The ivory tower is not without its dungeon for those who ignore this ironclad cardinal rule.
John Sledge edits the Mobile Register's Books page. He may be reached at the Register, P.O. Box 2488, Mobile, AL 36652.
I think Jason Sanford is being a mite (no, probably a lot) disingenuous in his passionate defense above of Brad Vice above. Firstly, no, I am not Southern by either birth or inclination, so I don't have any real idea whether or no Carl Carmer's lifted-from book (the term seems adequate, whether or no one also calls it plagiarism) is a "literary classic" below the Mason-Dixon line, is taught in college courses "down there," etc.
But I did once read another book by Carl Carmer, long, long ago, called "Things That Go Bump In The Night." And I liked it enough to research the author who, from everything I was able to read at the time, was a sort of New York state folklorist (another one of his compilations of NYS folktales is titled "Listen For The Sound Of A Lonesome Drum." Which is another way of noting that Carl Carmer is in fact, however rightly or wrongly, a rather obscure author. Which in turn means that Vice "borrowing" from him so apparently profusely is not the same as from, say (sticking to specifically Southern writers), either William Faulkner or even Dubose Heyward. It does indeed seem like Vice "borrowed" without thus expecting to ever be found out, that he hoped Carmer's relative obscurity would insure this.
So yes, it sounds very much like plagiarism to me, a Yankee. Not perhaps in the cruelest way possible but, nonetheless, plagiarism.
In response to Richard Szathmary's previous comment, I should note that Carmer's book has been kept in print for decades by the University of Alabama Press and that it is recognized as a classic of Alabama and Southern literature. As has been said repeatedly, the book is familiar to readers of Southern literature.
Below is a copy of the letter I wrote in support of Brad's case to his department head at Mississippi State University.
Dear Professor Raymond,
I have watched with dismay the mounting furor surrounding Brad Vice's prize-winning collection, The Bear Bryant Funeral Train. I know the book very well, because I directed Brad's dissertation at the University of Cincinnati, completed in 2001, a dissertation that in large part became the book.
As I'm sure you remember, issues of intertextuality, embedded narratives, and literary borrowing and homage were very much in the critical air through the 1990s, when Brad was most deeply engaged with writing the stories. Indeed, he and I discussed on many occasions these precise issues, and he talked to me at length about his intention to use the Carmer memoir as an embedded text in "Tuscaloosa Knights." Brad pointed out then that readers already familiar with Carmer's book would recognize and appreciate the literary tip of the hat, a reaction already described eloquently by Jake York in his posting on storySouth.
Mr. York is, I believe, quite right. The pleasures of a subtle and sophisticated borrowing such as Brad's have nothing to do with an intention to hoodwink anyone, but rather quite the opposite--both reader and writer delight in their mutual knowledge of a second text that knits them into a closer alliance than one might usually feel with the anonymous creator of a text. Far from an act of plagiarism, which intends to pass on another's work as one's own, such embedded narrative delights in the reader's recognition of the external text. Examples abound, from Eliot's and Pound's wide and gleeful borrowings in "Prufrock," "The Waste Land," and the Cantos to, as the fiction writer John Dufresne recently pointed out, one of the most celebrated and beloved of Raymond Carver's late stories.
Fiction writers, as I know you know, frequently rely on echoes in their work, and such effects can range from F. Scott Fitzgerald quoting lines of popular music in his short stories to the many contemporary retellings of classic fiction, such as A.M. Homes's The End of Alice, which is a retelling of Lolita that never directly names its source but frequently refers to it with telltale phrases and referents. Indeed, Nabokov himself sprinkled his texts so liberally with borrowings from canonical literature that his Pale Fire is frequently read as a how-to guide for precisely such embedded narratives.
I am appalled and deeply saddened by the position taken by the University of Georgia Press, and I believe they will come to feel that they acted hastily. Brad's book is extraordinary, and was already attracting the kinds of important reviews that are very rare for a first collection of stories by a young writer. His is an important voice in both Southern literature and contemporary American literature. I'm proud of my involvement with his work, and consider him to be an artist of the first water.
The Ohio State University
Hi Jason, Here's a short update that appeared in the Dec. 18 Mobile Register on the Vice affair. In light of the Young accusations, I emailed Vice a follow-up question about just exactly what source material he had used in his work and he graciously, and amazingly, responded. To my knowledge, this is the most detailed summary on the matter by Vice himself published to date. Whether it absolves or indicts probably depends of who's reading. Anyhow, I would appreciate you considering it for a post. Cheers, John Sledge, Mobile Register Books editor.
The Mobile Register |
War of words raging in Vice case
Sunday, December 18, 2005
By JOHN SLEDGE
Books Page Editor
In a blistering article for the Dec. 7-13 edition of the New York Press, Robert Clark Young, a novelist and writing teacher at the University of Phoenix, accused Mississippi writer and professor Brad Vice of further acts of plagiarism.
Regular readers of the Mobile Register Books page will remember that questions about Vice and his short-story collection, "The Bear Bryant Funeral Train," were the subject of my Nov. 13 "Southern Bound" column.
According to Young, Vice not only plagiarized Carl Carmer's "Stars Fell On Alabama" in the now-pulped collection, but Jim Dent's 2000 novel "The Junction Boys" as well. He further asserted that Vice had demonstrated a pattern of plagiarism from his graduate student days at the University of Cincinnati.
Young's piece has generated a lively discussion among literary bloggers, many of whom have hastened to the beleaguered Vice's defense. An editor at The Atlantic Monthly, where one of Vice's stories was first published, maintained that he was aware of certain parallels in Vice's work and other works, and discussed this with Vice to resolve them ahead of publication.
In light of Young's accusations, and because I did not think Vice had been specific enough when I had interviewed him earlier on this point, I sent the following e-mail on Dec. 7:
Dear Dr. Vice,
This is John Sledge of the Mobile Register again. I've continued to follow your story via various lit blogs and other press accounts. In light of Robert Clark Young's New York Press piece I'd like to just ask a quick follow-up question. As I'm sure you are aware, he accuses you of other instances of plagiarism dating back to your dissertation. I have closely followed the discussion relating to Mr. Young's piece and am conversant with the objections to it.
However, in light of it, I'd like to repeat the question I asked in our earlier interview, which you only tangentially answered at that time. Namely, have you played off previously published material in any of your other works, with or without attribution? Once again, I appreciate your time.
The next day, Vice replied:
Dear John Sledge,
I'm sorry if I was confusing before when I attempted to answer your question in a more general way. Let me attempt to answer you more clearly. Three stories in my collection have an intertextual relationship with previously published materials, a common practice among many contemporary, postmodern writers. The first, "Tuscaloosa Knights," makes intertextual use of Carl Carmer's chapter "Tuscaloosa Nights" from his memoir "Stars fell on Alabama." Owing to my ignorance of the principles of fair use and a misunderstanding of Carmer's copyright status, I failed to acknowledge this source in my collection and for this I am truly sorry. My original dissertation used an epigraph from Carmer before the story, but it was eventually removed from the final book as many advised me to make the book look more like a standard work of realism.
My story "Report from Junction" draws inspiration from Jim Dent's "The Junction Boys." This story was originally published in The Atlantic Monthly, where editor C. Michael Curtis was fully aware of the source and edited the story accordingly to avoid conflict with Mr. Dent or his publisher. After this rigorous editing process, I felt secure that I had the right to use my own final text as it was printed in my book.
The story in my collection entitled "Stalin" presents a history student who has a personal connection to Khrushchev's memoir "Khrushchev Remembers." This text announces itself in the story. That is, it is clear when the student ruminates about Khrushchev and Stalin, each line comes from Khrushchev's autobiography.
Finally, the title story "The Bear Bryant Funeral Train" is named after Guy Davenport's often anthologized story "The Haile Selassie Funeral Train," but to my recollection doesn't borrow any actual text. Its debt is mostly conceptual, i.e., a large number of notable people gather to mourn the loss of an icon. Similarly the last line of my story "What Happens in the 'Burg, Stays in the 'Burg" is an homage to Barry Hannah's story "I'm Shaking to Death." I'm sure Hannah was aware of this as he blurbed my book.
There were numerous epigraphs in my dissertation, one of them was from Carmer's text and another from Davenport, but, as I said before, these were edited out to make the book appear to be a more conventional piece of realism.
Thank you for your time and patience.
An upcoming hearing at Mississippi State University, where Vice teaches, will determine if he gets to keep his job. Young's article may be found at http://www.nypress.com/18/48/news&columns/RobertClarkYoung.cfm, and a skeptical analysis of it at http://emergingwriters.typepad.com/emerging_writers_network/2005/12/sifting_through.html