Lifting Not Limited To Hypertext

by | Nov 13, 2005

Pinion raised his fists in mock combat. “I’d kill a few of them sum’bitches before they even touched me with one of their ropes, by God. The sight of all that white trash under the sheets gets me hot enough to shit fire.”


Ron Hogan of Galley Cat, details the brouhaha over Brad Vice’s short story collection, The Bear Bryant Funeral Train.

The University of Georgia Press (the book’s publisher) has announced that it is withdrawing the collection from bookstores.

“On October 13,” according to UGA’s official statement, “the Press learned from the Tuscaloosa Public Library that one of the stories in Vice’s collection, ‘Tuscaloosa Knights,’ contained uncredited material from the fourth chapter of the first section of Carl Carmer’s Stars Fell on Alabama, a publication of the University of Alabama Press. UGA Press immediately froze stock of The Bear Bryant Funeral Train and contacted Brad Vice for his response. Vice admitted that ‘Tuscaloosa Knights’ borrows heavily from Stars Fell on Alabama and that he had made a terrible mistake in neglecting to acknowledge Carmer’s work. He further stated that he had done this without any malicious intent whatsoever.”

In addition to recalling the book from circulation and allowing the publiciation rights to revert back to Vice, UGA will also re-assign the Flannery O’Connor Award for short fiction it gave Vice last year to one of the other finalists.

In his apology to UGA, which he made available to Galleycat when contacted for a statement, Vice acknowledged that he relied heavily on Carmer’s description of a 1927 Klan march in writing “Tuscaloosa Knights.” “I made a terrible error in judgment by omitting to acknowledge this due to my ignorance concerning the principles of fair use,” Vice concedes. “I am sad to learn the omission will mean the demise of the book, a labor of love I have been working on since I was an undergraduate at the University of Alabama. Though I am deeply saddened by this prospect, I am made even more sad by the impression of impropriety these allegations of misconduct have left on my hometown, a place I care for deeply. This book was supposed to be my love letter to Tuscaloosa, and I am grieved that it would be read in any other way.”

Ironically, this controversy may end up helping Vice sell more books. Especially, if Vice is vindicated of any wrongdoing. Jake Adam York of Story South is one of Vice’s defenders.

When I first read Vice’s story — he sent it to me and to Jim Murphy so we could reprint it at Thicket, the site we’ve dedicated to Alabama writing — I heard the echoes of Carmer right away, and I thought Vice had done a smart thing. He had written his story right on top of Carmer’s, set his own characters in the very Tuscaloosa Carmer described among the very Klan that disgusted Carmer. It seemed to me a clear case of allusion.

To make the case for intentional, deceptive plagiarism, one must say that Vice’s intention is to hide from us the inspiring and well-quoted source, must say that Vice assumes we will not (could not) make the connection between his work and Carmer’s. It assumes that Vice’s quotation is meant not to evoke Carmer’s text but to pillage and thereby erase it.