On plagiarism

What’s it like to be plagiarized? Fascinating personal essay on the experience explores all the weird things that go through your head.

A few weeks ago I received an email from an unfamiliar sender. In the subject line was the title of a story I wrote five years ago. Sometimes, when you get published, this happens. Either a reader loves the story, or a reader hates the story, or you’ve won a prize. I have received all three kinds of communication for this particular story, so I braced myself, and opened the email. After some formal greetings, the sender identified himself as a journalist from Nairobi. He wanted to know if I was aware of the recent plagiarism scandal involving a young Nigerian author.

Apparently, the young author had written a wildly successful story that had won a reputable prize and was now shortlisted for a much more prestigious prize. Some people pointed out that the lauded story had more than a passing resemblance to my own. The journalist wanted to know if I had any comments for his article about the scandal. Formal outros ensued and the email ended with two links, one to my story and one to the story of the young writer. I clicked on the last link and read, rather quickly and with a dooming anxiety I will spend this essay exploring, a version of the story I’d written in which some of the sentences were verbatim copies of my own. Sometimes, when your writing goes out into the world, I guess this happens too.

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