Both Michelle Richmond and Dan Wickett have the scoop on a plagiarism case involving Brad Vice. Vice’s book The Bear Bryant Funeral Train won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. What was not known, until librarian Margaret Butler pointed it out, is that one of Vice’s stories, the title tale in Vice’s short story collection Tuscaloosa Knights, plagiarized one part of Carl Carmer’s Stars Fell on Alabama. The University of Georgia Press revoked the award, recalled all the copies of the book that had been issued and pulped the remainders.
Now here’s the interesting thing: Michelle’s compared the stories and says Vice’s story pays homage to Carmer. And at StorySouth, Jason Sanford has wrtten a passionate defense, claiming that Vice’s slip was “an honest mistake.”
But I think the comparative passages reveal the real story:
Carmer: “Beneath the tall elms on Queen City Avenue rode three horsemen robed in white.”
Vice: “Underneath the towering elms, three horsemen robed in white down the middle of Queen City Avenue”
Carmer: “One of them raised a bugle and again the minor four-note call sounded. Behind the mounted trio stretched a long column of marching white figures, two and two, like an army of coupled ghosts, their shapeless flopping garments tossing up and down in the still night air.”
Vice: “One of the horsemen raised his hood and blasted the same four mighty notes on the bugle. Behind the troika stretched a long watery line of white figures marching side by side like an army of ghosts, their shapeless garments shimmering in the night.”
Carmer: “Look,” he said, “can you see their shoes? They tell a lot.”
Vice: “Look.” Pinion pointed at the Klansmen. “You see their shoes? Invisible empire, my ass. I know everyone of them sum’bitches. Every one.”
Carmer: “Moving under the edges of the white robes were pants-leg ends and shoes, hundreds of them. A pair that buttoned and had cloth tops, a heavy laced pair splashed with mud, canvas sneakers, congress gaiters — a yellow pair with knobby toes swung past. At the very end a long figure in sturdy grained oxfords, his sheet twisted awry, stepped gingerly — a little uncertainly. Knox laughed.”
Vice: “Moving at the hem of the white robes were pant legs and shoes, dozens and dozens of shoes. One pair of button-ups with terrycloth tops, another heavy-laced pair splashed with mud, brown work boots, canvas sneakers, congress gaiters—even a green pair with knobby toes swung past. Pinion chortled. Only the thick holly hedge separated us from the street and the long line of marching shoes.”
I’m not certain if pulping Vice’s book fits the crime, but, with all due respect to Michelle, this is undisputedly plagiarism, with Vice almost reproducing the passages in their entirety. And Vice should have known better. Homage is when T.C. Boyle names his short story collection Tooth & Claw after Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” or when Star Trek VI takes Hamlet‘s “The Undiscovered Country” as its subtitle. Certainly the history of referencing other works and characters goes all the way back to the Iliad, where Homer referenced endless gods and figures steeped in Greek mythology.
Brad Vice may be a good guy, but when a writer takes entire sentences from another’s work and draws attention to himself by naming his short story collection after the story in which he has done this, he is setting himself up for inevitable discovery and the consequences that come from it.
© 2005, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.