More than 70 authors, including Pulitzer prize winners Jennifer Egan and Louise GlÃ¼ck, have come to the defence of the editor and poet Jill Bialosky after she was accused of plagiarism, saying that Bialoskyâ€™s â€œinadvertent repetition of biographical boilerplate was not an egregious theft intentionally performedâ€.
A scathing review of Bialoskyâ€™s memoir, Poetry Will Save Your Life, by the poet William Logan in the Tourniquet Review last week accused her of having â€œplagiarised numerous passages from Wikipedia and the websites of the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundationâ€ when writing biographical details of poets including Robert Louis Stevenson, Emily Dickinson and Robert Lowell.
Logan provided examples of Bialoskyâ€™s writing and the passages from Wikipedia, adding that â€œmany of Bialoskyâ€™s changes here and elsewhere â€“ â€˜barelyâ€™ for â€˜seldomâ€™, â€˜verseâ€™ for â€˜poetryâ€™, â€˜unleashedâ€™ for â€˜gave rise toâ€™, â€˜totalâ€™ for â€˜completeâ€™ â€“ are the slight, guilty revisions of the serial plagiaristâ€.
His claims were repeated in a New York Times news story, which quoted Logan as saying that â€œthe similarity of language made my heart sinkâ€.
Bialosky, a poet, novelist and editor at WW Norton, was honoured by the Poetry Society of America for her contribution to the art in 2014. In a response to the New York Times article, she said that she would â€œcorrect any errors that are found for future editions of the bookâ€.
Her statement added: â€œWilliam Logan has extracted a few ancillary and limited phrases from my 222-page memoir that inadvertently include fragments of prior common biographical sources and tropes after a multi-year writing process. This should not distract from the thesis of this book, which derives from my own life, my experiences and observations.â€
Her publisher Simon & Schuster called Bialosky â€œa highly regarded editor and authorâ€ and the book â€œa unique and critically acclaimedâ€ memoir. â€œWe stand by the book and are ready to work with the author to make any necessary corrections for future editions,â€ it said.
Now 72 authors, describing themselves as â€œwriters and friends of literatureâ€, have written to the New York Times to express their concern about the paperâ€™s story. They said that â€œby giving a large platform to a small offenceâ€, the story had â€œtainted the reputation of this accomplished editor, poet and memoiristâ€.
The letterâ€™s authors, Kimiko Hahn and David Baker, identified themselves as writers who have been edited by Bialosky. Of the 70 other signatories, who also include Egan, Claire Messud, Robert Pinsky and Roxanne Robinson, many are also published by WW Norton and edited by Bialosky. Egan and GlÃ¼ck are not.
The letter says that the charges laid against Bialosky â€œrefer to a handful of commonly known biographical facts gleaned from outside sourcesâ€.
The authors say: â€œGiven the trust that is assumed between a writer and her readers, this mishandling is not something to shrug off. Yet it bears saying that Ms Bialoskyâ€™s inadvertent repetition of biographical boilerplate was not an egregious theft intentionally performed. They say that they â€œstand with Ms Bialosky and her statement of apologyâ€ and that â€œit would be a terrible disservice to Ms Bialosky and to your readers if the article kept people from appreciating her substantial contributions to American lettersâ€.