Writer Jumi Bello recently watched her much-anticipated debut novel Departure Pulled from publication by Riverhead Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group. The reason is that Bello contacted her editor and admitted that she had in fact stolen several passages in the book.
A few months later, Bello published an article on LitHub (ARCHIVED) Explains how and why you did what you did. It’s a surprisingly poignant article, one that deeply explores Bello’s struggle with mental illness, and the stress she felt not only as a mentally ill person living in a country with a slippery health care system, but also as a black woman who suddenly and unexpectedly became welcomed into the ranks The supreme culture of the literary elite, which has been looking at it from the outside for a long time. As explained:
Early in the new year I finished my novel. I have written over two hundred pages of new material in a span of two months. I want the book to be is over.
This is the moment when plagiarism happens, when I go online and tell myself that I’m only looking for literary descriptions of pregnancy. I’ve never been pregnant before and Rawi. I need more descriptions of pregnancy in my book for my novel to succeed. I say to myself I just borrow and change the language. I say to myself I will rewrite these parts later during the editing phase. I will make this story mine again. I would have told myself anything at that point. I would go to bed at 8 in the morning because of nervousness and wake up in the middle of the night. I stay up all night, writing through the days. I just want to cross it to a place where I can sleep again. Looking at this moment, I ignored my instincts. I ignored the inner voice that said softly, This is a mistake, a mistake, a mistake. By April, I had sold my novel to a major publisher.
This, in and of itself, is not some egregious infringement (although it does invoke some shades of Inspiration vs theft The debate revolves around the famous “bad art friend”, another recent literary controversy). But Bellow did not eventually review those canceled passes until it was too late. By being told, she is paralyzed by shyness, unable to overcome her sense of imposter syndrome and face what she has done.
I don’t know the exact mental health diagnosis for Bello. But as someone with ADHD, I understand where it came from. Many people with ADHD tend to lie about the little things that often don’t make sense—either because we’ve really forgotten something, or because we’re trying to mask our symptoms in some other way, letting our impulses take over in a momentary panic. There are plenty of times when a manager or editor asks me about the progress of a project and I have pointed out some positive case reports which are an absolute BA. This manager/editor usually asks just out of curiosity – it’s their job to check in, right? – but the question confuses me with anxiety, like, “Oh my God, they’ll think I’m not far enough, then find out I’m a crook, and then go and fire me.” So you utter the words you wish were true, and then work like hell to make them so. So in that regard: I can totally sympathize with Bello here.
But where it gets weird is Bello’s article LitHub In which I explained all this … I also stole some clips. I wrote:
Plagiarism has been with us since the birth of language and art. For as long as there have been words to read, someone has been transcribing the syllables. It dates back to AD 8 with the poet Marcial catching another poet Vedentinus as he recited his work. Vedentinus was called an impostor, meaning “hijacker”.
Which, clumsy Observed, which has been lightly lifted and rewritten from a decade-old article published in – No Joke! – plagiarism today. Or perhaps, ironically or ironically, it was lifted from Turnitin’s 2019 article on “5 Historical Moments That Shaped Plagiarism”, which may also have been plagiarized from plagiarism today?
What is especially strange is that Bello’s article did not really need to include this passage in the history of plagiarism. I suppose it IIt is possible that it was a deliberate salutation, dropped in the article as a sort of Easter egg meta-text – that Bello intentionally plagiarized a passage about the history of plagiarism in an essay on plagiarism to show her self-reflexive awareness of the situation.
Upon realizing what happened, LitHub At first it removed the offending article without comment. The site’s editors later added an update saying:
Earlier this morning, Lit Hub published a highly personal essay by Jumi Bello about her experiences writing a first novel, her struggles with severe mental illness, the pressures placed on the young writer to publish it, and her own acts of plagiarism. Due to inconsistencies in the story and, most importantly, another incident of plagiarism in the published article, we have decided to withdraw the article.
This is a complicated situation everywhere. It certainly doesn’t look great on Bello – but to be fair, she’s also likely to face additional unfair scrutiny for being a black woman. It’s an unfortunate choice, too, because she appears to be a very talented writer who may have given up on her novel after her novel was canceled and still later had success. I hope you find what you need, whether it’s help or validation.
I stole parts of my first novel. Here why. [Jumi Bello / LitHub]
Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons