Click here to read the abstract of the story on The New Yorker webpage (this week’s story is available only for subscribers). Chinelo Okparanta’s “Benji” was originally published in the November 11, 2013 issue of The New Yorker.

Click for a larger image.

Click for a larger image.

Update: When the following post was written, neither Chinelo Okparanta nor The New Yorker had acknowledged any relationship between “Benji” and Alice Munro’s “Corrie.” A week after publication, they updated the interview with Okparanta to explicitly acknowledge “Corrie.” That interview is here.


I almost didn’t read this story. It was a busy week, and then word started going around in the comments below that it’s basically a straight-up knock-off of Alice Munro’s “Corrie” (which we covered here). Finally, I thought I’d better see for myself. All I have to say is this: one cannot even read the first paragraph without thinking of the great opening of “Corrie.” It’s disappointing, to say the least.


“Benji,” by Nigerian born Chinelo Okparanta, is a gold-rush story. Set in Nigeria, the story observes the submissions and accommodations that we make in the service of wealth.

Wikipedia  reports that Nigeria has the second largest economy in Africa, one that is “on track to becoming one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020” (here). Oil revenues are very important to Nigeria, but, as Wikipedia reports, “the World Bank has estimated that as a result of corruption 80% of the revenues benefit only 1% of the population.”

How does a nation live with such imbalances? That’s an interesting question, given that the United States itself is right now in the midst of a series of economic earthquakes and the re-gilding of the uppermost tier of our society. As for the accommodations we make when things seem either very opportune or very unfair, Okparanta’s story suggests that our moral standards can get very slushy when money is to be had for the picking.

Her dry, clever story has the ring of Ambrose Bierce, if you like that kind of thing, which I do. With a neat plot and a slow twist, it is basically the story of a long con, but just who is conning whom is an open question.

Benji is a short, slight, light, unmarried and extremely wealthy man of forty-two, and he still lives with his mother. They share a house like a show-room, complete with a magnificent garden, house girls and gardener. His mother is the madam of house. As for Benji, there are questions. Has wealth has ruined him? Is he kind or just foolish? What exactly does he do with his time? Alare, his mother’s new friend observes it all with a calculating cool.

Nigeria is interesting to me: it seems like the United States in some ways — the vast fossil-fuel wealth, the wild-west nature of its current oil-rush, and the inherent civil dangers posed by its  tribal, ethnic, and religious divisions. The New York Times, for one, maintains a continuing feed on news from Nigeria: elections, Boko Haram, corruption, and oil thieves, but a good short story gives me an idea of how people there actually feel and think. I usually enjoy the trip abroad that a short story from another country affords, and Okparanta’s story is no exception. I find her clean style refreshing, and I’d like to take a look at her new book: Happiness, Like Water.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Mookse and the Gripes on Patreon!
By |2014-04-21T16:13:32-04:00November 4th, 2013|Categories: Chinelo Okparanta, New Yorker Fiction|266 Comments


  1. Roger November 8, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    There is a yuk factor that pervades this story of an implausible (from Benji’s standpoint) sexual relationship between Benji and the much older Alare, who lacks any appealing characteristics. Worse than that, the story resorts to the device of the “surprise, twist” ending, which struck me as dramatically dishonest. Because the story operates from Alare’s point of view at the time she embarks on her scheme, it made no sense for the scheme to be concealed from the reader. If we’re privy to her thoughts, then we should be privy to her scheme, not just in general (which was obvious enough) but in particular (the identity of her gardener husband). Of course, if point of view had been used honestly, there would be no surprise, twist ending. And this story would not have been written. Which would have been perfect!

  2. ethanbaobarker November 8, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Look at the story “corrie” from the Oct. 11, 2010 issue. I think this story is clearly copied.

  3. Roger November 8, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    I just gave “Corrie” a quick read. This story, “Benji,” does indeed appear to be a ripoff. In “Corrie” the sexes are reversed, the age difference is less, and the point of view problem isn’t there. But the rest is largely the same. The New Yorker has an issue on its hands. So does Okparanta.

  4. Trevor November 9, 2013 at 12:27 am

    Well now I have to read this (it has been a busy week).

  5. ethanbaobarker November 9, 2013 at 12:41 am

    I agree! A shame for all involved. Also, thanks for reading. I hope to make this a fleshed out blog.

  6. Elkay November 9, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Having read both stories, my feeling is that Okparanta’s isn’t “copying,” rather, it’s a story in conversation with the other. The stories share a similar structure, but their features are different. I don’t see a problem.

  7. Betsy November 9, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Ethan and Roger – I need to take a look at “Corrie”. Will get back to you as soon as the busy weekend permits. .

  8. Roger November 9, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    If Okparanta was trying to engage “in conversation”with “Corrie” (and I’m not sure what that means), or if “Benji” is some sort of tribute to “Corrie,” perhaps Okparanta should have disclosed that during the Q&A on the New Yorker website.

    I can’t think of an artistic purpose served by what Okparanta has done.

  9. Elkay November 9, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    To say they’re in conversation with each other is to say just what I did–that they share a similar structure, and yet the features of each are unique. To be “in conversation” is not the same thing as copying. BTW, writers like Cormac McCarthy, Steven Pressfield, Billy Collins, and The Bard himself would probably disagree with you.

  10. Roger November 9, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Elkay, thanks for explaining what you meant by “in conversation with one another.” I think of a conversation as involving two willing participants, so unless Munro had consented to Okparanta’s emulation of “Corrie,” it wouldn’t have occurred to me to view the two stories as “in conversation.”

    It strikes me as a big understatement to say that the stories “share a similar structure.” “Benji” is made up of characters, scenes, and a plot derived directly from Munro’s story. For example, look at the condom scene, or the scene where the young wealthy character jokingly suggests killing the paramour’s spouse. Or consider the death of the wealthy character’s parent. And the scheme that forms the crux of the plot.

    One needn’t cut and paste every preposition and conjunction in order to plagiarize. That said, I hope readers and media critics pay attention to this and express their own views about whether what Okparanta has done is defensible, reprehensible, or something in between.

  11. Ken November 9, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    I had forgotten “Corrie” but I do see the strong similiarities. Amazing that the New Yorker editors would not see this. That said, I liked this story a lot and for most of the reasons Betsy gave. This is a fascinating question–if I’d never been alerted to the Munro parallel I’d have a completely different opinion. Now, I’m honestly perplexed since this story did, for me, work quite well yet I realize it is borrowing material.

  12. Ken November 9, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    I’m really trying to figure out a response to this question. What if this writer had never read Munro’s story? Would that make a difference? Does a literary detective need to be engaged and find out what she has read or hasn’t before calling it a rip-off? Munro’s story, as I recall, lacks a social dimension so that’s one thing that Okparanta adds. Very interesting questions.

  13. Roger November 9, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Ken, she must have read the story – she practically re-transcribed it!

    I thought the Munro story had a wealth/poverty social dimension – imitated by Okparanta as well….

  14. ethanbaobarker November 10, 2013 at 2:50 am

    I think to be in conversation with another specific piece, you have to address that in your own piece. For example, last weeks piece by Murakami was clearly ‘in conversation’ with Kafka’s Metamorphosis. But still, it explored another aspect of what Kafka had started. I don’t feel that this piece does enough exploration in an area not explored by Munro’s piece.

  15. ethanbaobarker November 10, 2013 at 2:59 am

    Also, i think Okparanta is following Mucro on a thematic level, but also on a detailed level. That both characters have a physical affliction is rather odd. They are also both “half-virgins.” They even share minor details: Corrie corrects her father when she mentions her age, the same way Benji corrects his mother. There are post cards sent with flirty messages. Both lovers make a note that they found the card before someone else did-a very small point that didn’t really need to be made. Also, both lovers mention the that their spouses are in favor of the current politicians. There is mention of a condom in both love scenes. Both Corrie’s and Benji’s parents die at the same time. The list of minor details goes on and on. Even the conclusions happen with “the sun up,” the morning after the characters discover they’ve been lied to.

  16. Mike November 10, 2013 at 6:22 am

    I had a sense, too, of having read this before, and the name “Corrie” popped into my head as well, having read it not in the New Yorker but the 2012 O. Henry Prize edition. Baffling.

  17. Betsy November 10, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Ethan – Thanks so much for noticing the appropriation that Okparanta has made of Alice Munro’s “Corrie”. The appropriation is so complete it is practically an Andy Warhol Campbell Soup can of the original, just in a different color.

    To me, there are three questions. First, would this use by Okparanta of Munro’s story stand up in court? I am no lawyer and have almost no experience on this issue. It is my understanding that if you have permission from the copyright holder, you can proceed. I am assuming that The New Yorker owns the copyright to “Corrie”. Since The New Yorker published Okparanta’s story, I assume all copyright issues are a foregone conclusion. If Okparanta wanted to publish this story in The Atlantic I imagine that would be a different story. So what might be plagiarism is one setting might not in another. There is a long and interesting article on fair use at entitled “Appropriation art: an Overview of Copyright and Consumer Protection for Art”.

    Another question is how the publication of this story fits into the way art works now and the history of art. The word used in common parlance to describe what Okparanta has done is “Appropriation Art”, and The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles has a good survey of the subject. They say that “the postmodern appropriator redraws, repaints, or rephotographs ….” The article makes clear that this “postmodern appropriator” is reproducing other artists work, either altered or unaltered.

    In their article entitled “Appropriation (Art)”, Wikipedia has an interesting account of a suit brought by photographer Patrick Cariou against the painter Richard Prince, his gallery and his publisher because Prince painted Cariou’s photographs. Courts decided in favor of the photographer but then the decision was reversed by Appeals Court in favor of the painter. h

    So there is a long (adjudicated) history of one artist appropriating the work of another person. Lots of names come up, mostly graphic artists. One famous recent case had to do with the Obama poster by Shepard Fairey in which he appropriated a photograph by Mannie Garcia.
    Of course, there is also the Jazz model, where a musician quotes a line from a published song and then does a long riff on that line. Copyright issues obtain there as well. If you are quoting from the “Fake Book”, you are not in the right, but if you are quoting from “The Real Book”, brought out by Berklee, and you won it, then you are okay.

    The third question that interests me is whether or not you enjoy this kind of art. The Jazz glossary which I quoted above also lists the word “shed”. Shedding is practicing. To me, this kind of dazzling appropriation is more practice than performance. But obviously, there are a lot of consumers of contemporary art who would argue otherwise.

    With all this new information, what I think of “Benji” requires more thought,
    and I look forward to it because it is an interesting question and two interesting stories..

  18. Betsy November 10, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Well – my apologies for typos in that last post – an apostrophe, misspellings, and haste.

  19. Roger November 10, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    The main problem, as I see it, is that Okparanta has perpetrated a hoax against the New Yorker’s readers. The New Yorker itself is either a victim of the hoax (if they did not know that Okparanta was copying Munro’s story) or complicit in it (if they did). A fiction reader’s reasonable default assumption is that he/she is reading an original work, unless the work is accompanied by a disclosure that the work is based on someone else’s. Okparanta may or may not have violated copyright laws, but she certainly violated the relationship of trust between writer and reader. No theory of art should shelter her from the criticism this conduct merits.

    Munro, too, is likely a victim, regardless of who holds the copyright (she may have retained it herself), unless she consented to this. Her plot, scenes, and characters were stolen by Okparanta, who profited from them by selling them to the New Yorker by pretending the story was her own. This assumes the New Yorker was not in on the hoax. I’m hoping we’ll hear from them on that question and more.

    There is a silver lining in this: Okparanta’s Munro-pastiche suffers from a botched use of point of view – a mistake Munro would never make. So Okparanta stands exposed not only as a plagiarist but as a bad one.

  20. Betsy November 10, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Ethan, Roger, and Mike are right: it appears that Chinelo Okparanta’s “Benji” is a close copy of Alice Munro’s “Corrie”. Although the sexes of the characters have been flipped and the setting has been moved to Nigeria, Okparanta’s story is first and foremost a copy of the Munro story told in a similarly distanced and flat style. Both have a shift in point of view part way through Both have a similar revealed twist, and both may have an unrevealed twist.. They are the same story.

    The body of this post is boring: I am simply making notes that show the similarities. There are many more than I have listed. Ethan, Mike and Roger all said the same thing far more concisely.

    Corrie and Benji are both unmarried children living at home with a wealthy, overbearing parent. Neither of them appears to work; both of them appear to be tied to the apron strings of their parent. Both are perceived by their parents as damaged goods, Corrie because she is lame from polio and Benji because he is unattractive and lacking in direction. In both stories, a dinner guest arrives who has a connection to the parent. Both of these dinner guests have a church connection: Howard is a church architect that Corrie’s father has hired, and Alare is someone Benji’s mother has met at church. Howard and Alare both reveal at dinner that they are married. Both Corrie and Benji appear to their guests to be weak and spoiled. Both Corrie and Benji reveal foreign travel plans to the guests who came to dinner.

    Corrie and Benji both send post cards to Howard and Benji, respectively, thus creating an up-tick in the slight connection made at dinner. Both elderly parents suffer sudden deaths, Corrie’s from a stroke and Benji’s from a heart attack. Both Howard and Alare make themselves very available to help Corrie and Benji during their parent’s convalescence; both couples manage to have sex, despite the presence in the house of a sick elder, and despite the fact that Corrie and Benji are both almost completely inexperienced. Both elder parents die. Both Howard and Alare begin extorting money from their marks quite soon after the inheritances would have been complete. Howard says that the maid at a dinner party was Sadie, Corrie’s former house maid. She wrote to him demanding hush money or she would tell his wife. Corrie agrees to pay the money twice a year in cash to Howard to deposit in Sadie’s deposit box. Benji ends up paying Alare money for her “sick husband”.

    The stories have a key sentence in common. Corrie remarks to Howard, “I guess killing her is not an option?” And Benji says, “I guess letting him go is t an option?”

    The plot similarities continue with boring repetition. Corrie and Benji both develop some outside interests – Corrie in her museum and in the library, Benji in the convenience store and in painting. Neither one amounts to much. Both have their startling moment when they realize that Howard and Alare have been conning them. Both realize they’ve been conned in an overnight realization. Both decide to never let on that they know.

    Both Benji and Corrie share this in common: that they never want to actually live married life with a spouse, having been nearly consumed by their overwhelming parents. So both stories convey the same basic moral: it doesn’t work when you try to have your children for dinner – something that was alluded to in both opening scenes.

    There can be no doubt that Chinelo Okparanta’s story is based on Alice Munro’s. But Okparanta says in her Pageturner interview that that’s okay – that some stories are universal.

    Regardless of contemporary principles at work in the art world, it puzzles me that the New Yorker published this story. But that requires a separate post and a little more time.

  21. Roger November 10, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Betsy, thanks for this very thorough review of the way Okparata mimicked the Munro story. With respect to the Pageturner interview, one thing I suggest we keep in mind is that Okparata did not admit to the copying. When she said that some stories are universal, it was a general statement, not linked to the sameness of “Corrie” and “Benji.” Possibly she drew such a link in her own mind, perhaps in her subconscious.

  22. Betsy November 10, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Yes, you’re right to caution that, Roger. Below is the interchange I had in mind.

    On November 4, in Chinelo Okparanta’s Page-Turner interview with Willing Davidson:

    Davidson: “When you and I were talking over some edits, you were clear that you didn’t want to make too many obvious or explicit references to the setting—why is that?”

    Okparanta: “I didn’t want to make too many explicit references because I thought that there were already enough details in the story to infer the country. I think the city is even mentioned at one point. Also, I think “Benji” is a pretty universal story. To an extent, the setting is irrelevant, because at the core, it’s the kind of story that could take place anywhere.”

  23. Trevor November 10, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    Hmmm, if Willing Davidson was her primary editor, I wonder if Deborah Treisman got much of a look at it (I believe she does most of the editing with Munro). I would think she must have, even if she wasn’t running the edits. I have a hard time believing she’d have let this story run after she must have spent a lot more time than any of us looking over “Corrie” a few years ago.

    I agree that, even if it isn’t illegal, cribbing someone else’s story is a shabby thing to do.

  24. ethan November 10, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Betsy and Roger: in that context, it seems that she is saying that the story is universal in the sense that it can take place anywhere in the world. And I agree with this; the best stories appeal to our core humanity. But I don’t think it’s universal in that it is “everyone’s story,” so to speak. I think the ending works in “Corrie” because it works for specifically for Corrie. The universality comes in the sense of loneliness, but the story is very specific in the way that this loneliness is articulated. For 99% of characters and people, finding out that their lover was making them pay for company would be disastrous, and end in some sort of confrontation. Romeo and Juliet, for example, is “everyone’s story.” When does a romance between two young lovers work perfectly? And certainly there are countless stories in which they lovers are “star crossed” in the same way Romeo and Juliet; for example, Tristan and Isolde. But all of those stories add something new, do something differently. Even though everyone can relate to their story, there is something unique about it that works for only their characters.

    Most importantly, no matter how you use the phrase “universal story,” it never gives an artist the right to remake, completely, another artist’s work. At the very least, Okparanta should have mentioned Munro in the interview. It is not like “Corrie” is so famous that people know it is being “referenced,” and the fact that it is not mentioned seems like she is trying to pass the story off as her own (and I think TNY would not publish it if they realized it was so similar to a story they had already published). What’s more, in cases of “universal stories,” new versions always have a new angle or another way in. Like Pocahontas and Avatar, or any of the retellings of Shakespeare’s plays. They add a new dimension, and certainly do not copy line by line. If the themes are reused, fine, but the details must be unique.

  25. Betsy November 10, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    Many telling points, Ethan.

  26. Betsy November 11, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Okparanta’s treatment of Munro’s story reminds me of the way in which directors treat Shakespeare – giving any of the plays a different setting is a time honored strategy which gives it new life and gives the audience the pleasure of revisiting something they already know. Audiences actually expect that Shakespeare or an opera should have a creative staging. But we always know who wrote the piece.

    In the same way, our sense of the movies is that if the film rights of the story were purchased, and then the director had a version created that took place in Nigeria, it would surprise us not at all. We expect such close re-creation in the movies. It would be like the owners of “In Treatment” changing the setting from Israel to the United States and thus also changing the identity of the main characters. But the credits always acknowledge the original.

    As remarked before, this explicit re-use of material appears to be common in contemporary photography, painting, sculpture and jazz, as well as some contemporary music. It is clear that in poetry, Lucy Brock-Broido used a “re-use” technique (and philosophy) in “Heat” published recently in The New Yorker. I am unfamiliar, however, with re-use done in this manner (and unacknowledged) in the short story.

    As an untutored reader, I feel some of the frustration of those who feel tricked or tested by the magazine, as in being given a litmus test for legitimacy as a reader. On the other hand, the magazine may feel that it offers literature to its readers with respect – that it leaves up to the reader to discover on which level they will approach any given piece. I would still prefer to be given the footnote: more information from a translator, for instance, or more background about appropriation, if appropriation art is the realm of the story or poem.

    As an observor of the making of art, appropriation art feels more like Czerny than Beethoven. It feels like a very challenging practice exercise.

    I am not familiar with a story that has ever done what Okparanta’s has done. It would be interesting to hear if anyone knows of something similar.

    Finally, because Okparanta is Nigerian, and because this is Nobel season, and because the appropriated/honored (depending on your point of view) story is that of Nobel winner Munro, I cannot help but be reminded that Chinua Achebe, whose achievements seem towering, never won the Nobel. Is the magazine, and/or Munro, thus making that connection for us?

    It is as if the placement of this story is itself a piece of performance art – the intention being to provoke reactions of all sorts.

  27. avataram November 11, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Troubled by this episode. When I read “Happiness, like Water”, Okparanta’s short story collection, I was reminded of other stories. One of the stories “America” has a plot that is similar to a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie story titled, “The American Embassy”. Another, “On Ohaeto Street” has a plot point similar to Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People”. One wonders now if these are mere coincidences or signs of something worse.

    It is also troubling that The New Yorker has not responded in anyway. Long weekend?

  28. Trevor November 11, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Are they as directly appropriated as this one?

  29. avataram November 11, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Re-read “America” and “The American Embassy”. There are similar elements, but the stories are different. Two women in Nigeria are trying to join their partners in America (a man in one case and a woman in another) and both are humiliated at the US embassy in Nigeria. Both stories move through flashbacks the women have while going to or waiting at the embassy. One gets the visa and the other does not. But there seems to be no direct appropriation. Maybe plot devices are similar.

    I am trying to find Flannery O’Connor story, so I can read the other two together.

  30. avataram November 11, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Read the other two as well. Similar beginning, but different stories. In the Flannery O’Connor story, a bible salesman comes to the house of a widow and her daughter, makes a crude pass at the daughter and is rebuffed. In The Okparanta tale, a Jehovah’s witness comes to the house of a widow and her daughter, with bibles and magazines, and this time he ends up marrying the daughter. Then the Okparanta story continues for many more years with one more twist.

    I feel all three stories are re-imagined in some way. The Chimamanda story has been re-imagined in a different decade (2010s instead of 1960s), with a same sex relationship and a different visa result. The Flannery O’Connor has been re-imagined in a different time and place, with the bible salesman marrying the daughter. The Alice Munro has been re-imagined in Nigeria with a gender switch.

    All of them feel like pastiche/parody writing exercises one maybe given in writing workshops – good for a term paper, but not good for publication.

  31. Roger November 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Very interesting and well-put about a writing exercise vs. publication. Re-imagined may be too generous a term, though – “slightly altered” strikes me as more fitting.

    I recently came across a brand new literary journal that may be an appropriate home for Okparanta’s work:

  32. avataram November 11, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    There is also a big error in the Okparanta story – a factual error, apart from the points of view problems etc.

    In Munro’s story, an initial conversation between Corrie, her father and Howard referred to Tommy Douglas a premier of Saskatchewan. Douglas was premier for a long time, 1944-1961, so the initial conversation could have happened anytime in that period, still leaving enough time for the remaining story, the long blackmail, which in Munro’s case was at least 10-15 years or so.

    In Okparanta’s story, the initial conversation between Benji, his mother and Alare refers to President Umaru Yar’Adua. He became President of Nigeria in May 2007 and died in 2010 after a long illness. The story refers to him being very sick, so one can almost precisely date this to 2009.

    So, 2009-2013 is not a long time for blackmail. Unless of course, the story is set in the future, maybe in 2023! A future in which Alice Munro can be conveniently forgotten.

    Willing Davidson and The New Yorker have really done a terrible job of editing the story, if at all it was edited at all.

  33. Mike November 11, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Not convinced of looking at this as “appropriation literature”. As a reader, I’m disappointed,and I don’t feel like reading too much into the motives. Gut feeling after first read was rip-off, not pastiche or Andy Warhol or anything else. Unfortunately.

  34. avataram November 11, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Apologies to Mike for focusing on minor details- I do think “Benji” is a blatant copy of “Corrie”. The New Yorker had no business publishing it. Grateful to Mookse for discovering it.

    In response to Betsy’s question as to whether anyone has done anything similar to Okparanta – I recall ndrani Aikath Gyaltsen, whose second novel, “Crane’s Morning (1993)” was plagiarised from “The Rosemary Tree” (1956) by Elizabeth Goudge. The character names were changed to Indian names and the setting was changed to an Indian village. After the fraud was uncovered and the book recalled, Aikath Gyaltsen was depressed for a few years and then committed suicide in 1994.

    I learnt something then – “Aesthetic Affirmative Action”. I believe that is at work in Okparanta’s case as well.

  35. Betsy November 11, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks, Avataram for Aikath Gyaltsen. That is sad. Mike, I am not convinced of the worth of “appropriation art” either, and I only recently came to understand that it existed. But it seemed in the air, here.

  36. Arleen McCallum November 11, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    I think most of the posts here are far too kind. This is not like jazz players doing their own version of a song. It is not like a Warhol redo of a soup can that everyone recognizes; or many other variations on a theme that can occur in original art.
    The first insult for me was the suddeness and matter-of-factness of how the “new” lover was pleasing in bed. “She found that Benji’s small size somehow pleased her in bed.” This after a paragraph about her tending for the ailing mother. “He hadn’t been sure how he would react to the foot,in bed.” This is mentioned after he has decided to help about the house doing man chores.(“Corrie.”)
    But the inexcusable, gobsmacking repetition of “i guess letting him go is not an option.”( “Benji”)” I guess killing her is not an option.” (“Corrie”) took my breath away.
    Betsy’s earlier post list many of the similarities, and unfortunately there are more than she lists.
    This is not acceptable from The New Yorker, or the writer.

  37. Mike November 11, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    This should never have made it into the magazine, but what about Okparanta? What was she thinking? Why do such a thing?

  38. Trevor November 11, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    The first I heard about this was when Ethan brought it up in the second comment to this post. At that point I still hadn’t read the story. Indeed, I was a bit skeptical, thinking it may be similar but that’s hardly new. After comments here were more and more direct in their accusations I read “Benji” and was dumbfounded at how Okparanta appeared to simply be playing a game of Mad Libs with Munro’s “Corrie.”

    I am with those above who said legal or illegal, this is wrong. I’ve been tweeting The New Yorker Fiction and Willing Davidson, but so far no response.

  39. avataram November 11, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    I have tried tweeting/trolling various New Yorker writers, but no response so far. It is almost as if they hope the small number of people who are upset will get tired and go away.

    I think it is a great news item for Gawker or Drudge Report or NY Daily News, but I shudder at the thought of Mookse people being quoted or interviewed by any of these outfits.

  40. Arleen McCallum November 11, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    I cannot imagine The New Yorker not addressing this. They have always prided themselves in professionalism — fact checking, editing, selection, etc. But at the moment, they probably need time to get organized; and no
    one individual would want to get “voted off the island.”

  41. Roger November 11, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Yes, they have no choice but to address this. They’re probably assembling a squadron of lawyers and PR folks. Maybe even shopping for one or more crisis manager-consultant types. I hope our subscription rates don’t increase too much to cover the expenses.

  42. Arleen November 11, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    With this decrease in quality rates should go down. HA HA

  43. ethan November 11, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    I “wrote them a letter.” Hopefully they do a good job editing it to make me sound smart when they publish it;) Also, thanks for the shout out Trevor. Honestly, my first doubts about this came from the prestige and excellent editing of the New Yorker. I wonder what their actual process is, if a story can get published without all of the editors approving/discussing? Because surely Munro’s editor did not see this story. Lastly, I doubt the New Yorker is in any real trouble of being sued; Alice doesn’t strike me as the type of person to sue the New Yorker, which has really be an ally to her. I doubt she will say much on the matter at all. It is really Okparantas reputation that is at stake.

  44. Roger November 11, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    Yes, exactly. The New Yorker probably is getting lawyered up because, depending on what they say and how they say it, they could provoke legal action by Okparata. And their PR folks will probably help them tread lightly so as not to be depicted as picking on a writer from a developing country.

    As far as we readers are concerned, we should receive an additional story in an upcoming issue!

  45. Betsy November 11, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Earlier, Avataram wrote: “Troubled by this episode.” I would echo that.

  46. avataram November 11, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Someone responded on twitter – Okparanta’s fellow “Literature fellow” at Colgate Univ. She said that if there was plagiarism, The New Yorker would be the first to know about it, and since they have said nothing, it is proof that there is no plagiarism. That is a logical conclusion to draw from The New Yorker’s silence.

    I tried posting on Okparanta’s facebook page, but it was deleted within seconds.

    Should we be the ones lawyering up? I am reconsidering my intemperate tweets to various writers associated with The New Yorker.

  47. Trevor November 12, 2013 at 12:05 am

    I think asking them for a response is appropriate.

    My main goal in receiving a response is to give what I hope would be a bit of balance here, if there’s any balance to be had. I think most of us think it’s a clear case of appropriation (whether legal or illegal is not my issue), but I’d be willing to concede that may not be the case.

    If it is not appropriation but rather “conversation,” then I’d love for someone to come here and enlighten us with a civil, substantive response. I think we’d all appreciate seeing beyond this.

    I asked the person on Twitter that avataram mentioned for just this kind of considered response, but she declined — understandably, I think.

    Really, though, I anticipate this all to go away quickly (if it hasn’t already). And maybe that’s for the best. I don’t think anyone here wants to ruin anyone’s reputation (including our own), even if it’s deserved. I think we’d all like better in the future.

  48. Betsy November 12, 2013 at 12:42 am

    This is a puzzling situation. We may never know much of anything about why the New Yorker selected this story or what their own concerns or interests in the story or the author were. I am glad Trevor, as the blogger of this blog, chose to write to The New Yorker about our conversation. That works for me. His is always a measured point of view. But they may not reply. Or, their official response may be just as puzzling as the story they chose to publish.

    Whatever the problem with the story, they may have workable ways to settle it quietly among themselves. As for unworkable ways of settling such an issue, some of the famous legal art appropriation wrangles have taken years to resolve, and at least one of them decided first in favor of the petitioner and then several years later in favor of his opposite. It will be a while.

    While waiting, I look forward to turning back to Alice Munro. Trevor and
    I are now at work on “Lives of Girls and Women”. I just spent a week thinking about the title story. “Baptizing” is my next empty Word document waiting to be inscribed. These are great stories, well worth the time. Munro once said (somewhere) that she could spend several months on one story. Perhaps she was hoping that a reader or two would spend more than a half hour reading it. So that’s my work – finish “Lives of Girls and Women” and not stint the time.

    I can’t wait to get to the Epilogue. In the Epilogue of “Lives of Girls and Women”, Munro talks about what Del (her alter ego) thinks the art of writing stories ought to be.

  49. Mike November 12, 2013 at 4:01 am

    If this was intended as a conversation of sorts with Munro, then it should have been addressed in the interview. But it doesn’t add anything to “Corrie”. It’s not like Murakami’s Samsa story, which I wasn’t a fan of either, but at least it was clear what he was doing. Also, he has the stature and the reputation to pull it off. Re-working an Alice Munro story should fall to someone much more on an eye to eye level with Munro, not one just starting out, with her first story in the New Yorker.

  50. Trevor November 12, 2013 at 9:58 am

    The interview with Okparanta has been updated and now directly addresses “Corrie.” I will link to it here and in the post above.

    Personally, for me it doesn’t come off as an homage or as something new. A new setting? Sure.

  51. avataram November 12, 2013 at 10:05 am

    I am very disappointed with both Okparanta’s incoherent reply to the “Corrie” question and the New Yorker minimizing the issue. (She wanted to address lack of medical facilities in Nigeria – really?) There was also another act of dishonesty from the New Yorker – usually comments to the original article transfer on an update, but I notice they took the opportunity to delete Ethan’s comment from November 8 regarding “Corrie”.

    I hope they understand that readers are upset and oblige with a new Alice Munro, not a Nigerian knockoff.

  52. Mike November 12, 2013 at 10:44 am

    I suggest giving the money to a journal that cares more about its readers and about what it publishes. There are plenty..

  53. Roger November 12, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Okparanta’s tardy statement is as lame as it is late. She and the New Yorker owe readers, and Munro, an apology. Interesting that they deleted a previous comment. Sounds like the New Yorker is in conversation with Orwell.

  54. Trevor November 12, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Fortunately, we have here a record of this, and the old interview question is above in Betsy’s comment here.

    Here is the link to the revised and amended interview, which now says this instead:

    Several readers have noticed the parallels between your story and Alice Munro’s story “Corrie,” which was published in the magazine, in 2010. You’ve mentioned that “Benji” was modeled on “Corrie”; can you talk about what you hoped that modeling would do?

    I am a big fan of Alice Munro’s writing, which I was introduced to while at Iowa. At the time, I couldn’t help thinking how so many of her stories felt so “Nigerian”: quite a few of her characters recalled people I knew in Nigeria, and some of her conflicts mirrored conflicts that were in some ways trademarks of Nigerian culture. I was working on a story about a poor couple in Nigeria who created an illness plot in order to get money from a rich, unmarried, pale-skinned short man. After reading “Corrie,” I wanted “Benji” to work as an homage to Munro regarding the parallel plot/structure points, but with different sociocultural contexts, in a way that gave rise to, I hope, a wholly new story. I think pieces of art can speak to each other where the craft is concerned, while also allowing the possibility for divergent discourses concerning the specifics of culture and society. That is, I hoped that this sort of modeling would help set up a discourse, particularly in terms of how space and culture can influence a story and how it is read. For me, it was key to ground my story in the culture of Nigeria. There was, for instance, the issue of a wealth divide, which is a topical issue in Nigeria, and is seen through the characters of Alare and her husband, versus Benji’s family. There was also the issue of religion. But, most of all, there was a focus on health care, because Nigeria is known for the way its élites and government officials (like Yar’Adua) have had to travel to foreign countries in order to get medical care, for lack of quality of care in our own country. This last bit formed the premise of my scheme and was a large part of my story.

  55. Arleen November 12, 2013 at 11:29 am
    Here is the link to the updated response. Unacceptable IMHO. I object also to an appropriation of Ms. Munro’s writing style — a whole other topic.

  56. Trevor November 12, 2013 at 11:40 am

    I am with those who don’t find this defense compelling in the least. Basically, this says it’s okay to take the plot/structure and characters of any story and, so long as you change the setting and say its analyzing something in that setting, it’s a conversation or an homage. I feel that “Benji” is simply too much of “Corrie” to be either of those, whatever the intent of the author.

    And Mike, I’ve thought for some time about switching magazines. I like doing The New Yorker because it’s weekly, relatively diverse, and has a wide readership, allowing us to get into some fun conversations here. Also, I’ve been reading the magazine regularly for fifteen years. I have my various complaints, but for the most part I look back and have no regrets.

    However, if anyone has some suggestions, I think we’d be willing to consider them, though for the foreseeable future we’ll keep doing The New Yorker.

  57. avataram November 12, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Meanwhile, Okparanta is writing her first novel “Under the Udara trees” and it will be published soon. I do hope it is in conversation with “Amundsen”, a Munro story I never get tired of.

  58. Trevor November 12, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Hey, was this question and answer in the original interview?

    The perspective of the narration in this story is tricky and ambitious. We gradually move out of Alare’s head and into Benji’s. Did you always know that you wanted to tell the story in this way, and how hard was it to calibrate how much each of your two main characters should know of the story?

    I had the story in my mind for a long time before I sat down to write it, and by the time I began writing it, I knew that there would be certain aspects of the story that each character would know, and certain aspects that each character could not possibly know. Also, I knew that there were certain things that the reader would need to know, and certain things that the reader could not be allowed to know, at least not right away. The reader, in a sense, became part of the equation, and the story became a sort of game—this striking of a balance between withholding and revealing. It was not too difficult a thing to do—I was lucky to have read a number of superb short stories with seamlessly (i.e., successfully) meandering points of view; those stories served as models for me.

    I think the first part of the answer is silly and doesn’t say anything at all, the revealing line: “It was not too difficult a thing to do — I was lucky to have read a number of short stories with seamlessly (i.e., successfully) meandering points of view; those stories served as models for me.” Regardless of what other stories she read, “Corrie” is the clear “model” that made this story “not too difficult” to write.

  59. avataram November 12, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    It was there. I thought that was a tacit admission of her guilt.

    I imagine a situation where Deborah Treisman is on leave, and Willing Davidson picks up a story from the pile and decides to interview the author and publishes it. To her credit, she gave him enough hints that it was “lifted”, but he wasn’t sharp enough to catch them.

    I imagine one of the “certain things that the reader could not be allowed to know, at least not right away” was the fact that the story was a copy of “Corrie”.

  60. avataram November 12, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Also, just being curious. Is Elkay a regular commenter here? Okparante is called nel by her friends, and nl seems very similar to lk. Elkay’s comment is also very similar to the update posted by the New Yorker. If that is the case, it may be a first for this blog.

  61. Trevor November 12, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    No, I don’t think elkay is a regular here, but I also don’t think it is the author.

  62. Roger November 12, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Maybe it’s her agent ….

  63. Rosalind November 12, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    Liar,liar pants on fire! Juvenile behavior earns this response.

  64. Mike November 12, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    Trevor, I don’t live in the U.S., but if I did, I would pick up a different literary journal every month. There are so many good ones. The New Yorker I’ve always read more for the articles and the general content, not so much the short stories. For those I go to the Paris Review, McSweeney’s, Zoetrope, Southern Review, and several others. I find that they’re more willing to take risks. With short stories in the New Yorker, I pretty much know what I’m getting every week. I’m rarely surprised..

  65. Betsy November 12, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    Well. I have been out of the loop all day (was with the grandkids).

    It seems, at first look, like the New Yorker is forcing Okparanta to take responsibility for this.

    In addition to forcing Okparanta to admit what she did, this morning’s addendum to the interview thus admits that the editorial procedures at the magazine were so thin on the ground that the interests of one of their own writers (Munro) were overlooked.

    In so doing, it also overlooked the interests of Okparanta, in particular, whose life will now be very different.

    What does this say to writers? A writer might think twice about publishing with the New Yorker (which I would find sad). But if the magazine cannot protect the rights and honor the gifts of their own writers, writers might have no choice.

    I think more should be forthcoming from the magazine about their process.

    I want to read everything we have available to us very carefully before I comment any further. Now I need to cook dinner and tell my husband all about the grandkids.

  66. avataram November 12, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    The New Yorker definitely has lawyers at work. The first thing they have done is “Audi Alteram Partem” (Hear the other party), by giving Okparanta a chance to come clean with the additional question in Q&A. She decided not to take it. Now, The New Yorker is free to throw her under the bus.

    As Betsy says, the extreme way in which The New Yorker first overlooked the interests of Alice Munro, and now those of Okparanta is very troubling. The cost of being a part of a large portfolio of magazines probably means that the famed fact checking/editing department is probably a thing of the past, and astute editors have been replaced with trust fund kids like the editor of this piece, who dont need a job and dont seem to do one anyway.

    Mike – thanks for suggesting alternatives. I am a reader for the last 12 years, but I think it is time to move.

  67. Betsy November 12, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    I wish to interpose here a sense of disappointment that Munro’s Nobel has been so used and so disregarded by Chinelo Okparanta and The New Yorker.

    Munro has written steadily for more than sixty years. She took months to write certain stories. She didn’t publish her first book until she was in her late thirties. She kept house, brought up kids and wrote. She didn’t quit, she didn’t take short cuts. She certainly never used jargon or copied other people’s works. Why would she? She had her own ideas. Her voice was unique, her territory unique, and her point of view her own.

    She has been, her whole life, a true artist – she worked hard, and she never stopped working.

    Her writing did not fit the times, and many people did not understand her. In a period of near hysterical ego-feminism, Munro’s own feminism held women responsible for their choices, regardless of whether society or men held them down.

    Anyone wanting to use Munro as a model should first consider the nature of Munro’s vocation – that it took a life time to reach the skill that “Corrie” took to write.

  68. Betsy November 12, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    We owe Ethan a shout-out. His great memory, coupled with a great literary sense, told him something was fishy about “Benji”, and he almost immediately recalled “Corrie” and identified its likely use as a source. The wording in the New Yorker addendum says that “several” readers were troubled by the similarities between the two stories. The wording – “several” – (not very many) – indicates Mookse and Gripes as the source of their discomfort.

    It is Ethan’s sharp eye that made the call. They should have hired you, Ethan. You would have saved them. And the authoress.

  69. Betsy November 12, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    Avataram, your own concern about the recently published collection of stories (Happiness like Water) is now more important than ever. If this pattern of appropriation applies to even one other story, the author of that original story (say, Adichie) deserves all the more to be recognized..

  70. Archer November 12, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    I read “Benji” today, and I have to echo most the sentiments expressed here. Okparanta has very clearly taken the plot, tone and intention of Munro’s “Corrie” and has essentially re-written the story. What I find particularly egregious is that people who read this without any knowledge of the Munro story will think it is an original work. There is no marker or indication that it is an appropriation.

    A similar thing happened with a Lorrie Moore story that was published in the New Yorker a while ago, “Referential”. That was basically a re-telling of Nabokov’s famous short story “Signs and Symbols”. However, that was a case of an established author working with a very well-known story. She explicitly pointed to her intention with the title, and in the Q&A on TNY website, Nabokov is the first thing mentioned (and, even then, if you check out that page, there are a number of disapproving comments). I completely fail to see the point of re-telling a story that was only published three years ago in the same magazine, and that a lot less people would easily recognize. Surely, Okparanta could have dealt with these class/government issues in another (original) context?

    I also find TNY’s response to this (with the Q&A addendum) shockingly disingenuous. It doesn’t really address any of the complaints that have been raised here. And it suggests that those who have concerns don’t understand the aspect of creation that involves the influence or appropriation of other people’s work. I think we do , and I think this not a credible example of that. (I, for instance, didn’t have a problem with the Lorrie Moore story, even if I didn’t think it was her best.) In most universities, if a student handed in a paper doing what Okparanta has done, without openly citing a main source, that student would surely be accused of plagiarism. At the very least, the “Corrie” connection should have been immediately revealed in the Q&A. But, I agree, this shouldn’t have been published at all. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s a particularly good story either.)

    I feel, as a big Munro admirer (I wonder what she would say about this?) that this is quite unacceptable. But I also hear Trevor’s compassionate reminder that, for all our outrage and indignation, a writer’s reputation is at stake. I’m not trying to pile on here. Perhaps it’s for the best that we leave it at that. I do hope that some of the editors or maybe even the writer comes across these comments, and takes them into consideration. This is very disappointing from TNY.

  71. Betsy November 13, 2013 at 12:03 am

    Welcome, Archer. Thanks for your thoughtful commentary, and in particular, thanks for the comments regarding the Lorrie Moore story.

  72. SleighbellsRing November 13, 2013 at 12:15 am

    You might also take a closer look at Design and and this prior and amazing T.A.R.P…

  73. Arleen November 13, 2013 at 12:39 am

    I agree with Archer, TNY response is no response. I would like to hear -” we are investigating, talking with the fiction editor, + Ms Munro + Okparanta….”.
    An apology would be welcome – especially in the direction Of Alice Munro,
    but also to us, her admirers. Munro has put the short story out front with her Nobel win, reinforcing what TNY does. In Canada this week we have a Giller award going to a writer of short stories.
    This particular high profile copy cat is backsliding, and gives very “bad press” to the concept of the short story.
    Could you “copy” a novel? ps that is not an invitation.

  74. Sophie K. November 13, 2013 at 2:34 am

    Like other readers expressing their views here, I pick up new fiction hoping to see original work. And when I look at “Benji”, that is exactly what I see. The story is in my mind a great “case of an established author working with a very well-known story [who] explicitly pointed to her intention with the title, and in the Q&A”. Yes, Alice Munroe is a very well-known, established author and to address the concern I’m seeing here, it is extraordinarily unlikely that the New Yorker would publish an intelligent and original response to one of her stories, like Chinelo Okparanta’s “Benji”, by accident, and then go on to remain unaware of this intentional (and, in my opinion, productive) relationship between the two stories even after Okparanta openly pointed it out to everyone.

    Okparanta was very clear in the text quoted above that “Benji” was modeled after and in response to the similarly titled and themed “Corrie”; she even says that: “After reading ‘Corrie,’ I wanted ‘Benji’ to work as an homage to Munro regarding the parallel plot/structure points, but with different sociocultural contexts, in a way that gave rise to, I hope, a wholly new story.” Seems like a good goal to me.

    As a reader who shares the dedication to originality that many of the other commenters here express, and as a person who is familiar and comfortable with the common practice of writers responding to each other’s work (it would be hard to count the number of published poems that have resonated with and responded to writings of Stevens, Williams, and Berryman, for example), I think it’s exciting that the New Yorker is engaged enough in its fiction editing to publish these two stories within a few years of one another, the first by a longer-established author, and the second by an emerging author who brings in cultural themes and ideas that are totally different and that expand the literary conversation as well as creating a new work.

    I guess it’s also a reflection of how quickly culture and information move nowadays that such a conversation, and one that spans cultures, is possible, right? Thanks to everyone for getting in here and thinking about this stuff, I’m glad so many other people care about contemporary writing and its quality.

    -Sophie K., New York City

  75. avataram November 13, 2013 at 7:05 am

    Betsy, in response to Trevor’s question, I re-read the two stories I was uncomfortable with and did not find any direct appropriation. But we have a new tip about a different story, Design, also included in the same book, from SleighbellsRing.

    I came here as a long time reader of Alice Munro and a long time reader of the New Yorker, deeply disappointed by the New Yorker’s handling of this episode. A substantial apology from the magazine to Alice Munro is enough for me.

    I would really like Deborah Treisman looking at this episode -As the daughter of a Nobel prize winner, she probably understands the gravity of appropriating the work of another Nobel winner.

    Earlier, I wanted some expression of contrition from the young author, but after reading a very troubling interview with her in the link given by SleighbellsRing, and remembering that the last person who did this- Aikath Gyaltsen, committed suicide- I do not seek that any longer.

    Should we look at other stories? I will be grateful for directions from Trevor and Betsy. Mindful of Trevor’s call for compassion for the young author, I do not know if we should go further.

  76. Trevor November 13, 2013 at 7:07 am

    Sophie, thanks for coming in an expressing your view. I would like others who think this is an original work to engage in the conversation. My fear is that since so many here obviously are upset by what we feel Okparanta has done that people who don’t agree simply won’t comment. I appreciate your willingness. And I believe everyone here will respond constructively if they feel a need to respond. I hope my response below is taken as a genuine attempt to get at some of your points.

    I’m not sure that I am persuaded by your comment. It looks like you may have missed how this all came about. When this piece was originally published, there was no mention of Munro in the Q&A. That came a week later in response to readers clamoring for an explanation. In other words, Okparanta was clear only after being called out. And still many, if not most (all?), of us who wanted a response feel that the response is insufficient.

    I’m also unsatisfied with your reasoning here. I think you mostly point to Okparanta’s goal, that she hoped it would be original, but that is not evidence she succeeded. Then I think you state your conclusion as a reason: it is original; therefore, it is original. Please explain how it is original. She “brings in new cultural themes and ideas” doesn’t convince me. For one, I don’t think she does this. But, more importantly, even if setting this is Nigeria does that, that doesn’t make the story an original work. Above, there is a laundry list of the plot elements, styles, structures, and even sentences that Okparanta uses from “Corrie.” There are more than are listed, and there are few of those elements Okparanta herself added. That is appropriation — undue appropriation, in my book.

  77. Trevor November 13, 2013 at 7:15 am

    Avataram, I am comfortable discussing whether or not this is original, should other opinions like Sophie’s above come up. It’s an interesting discussion, I think; plus, I’m happy hoping such discussion will lead to doubting our original conclusion.

    I’m less comfortable calling out anyone any more. If this is being handled by anyone more directly involved, I assume it is being handled privately, and I think that’s for the best.

    That doesn’t mean we cannot continue to express disappointment, of course, and I’m not putting a censorship warning up here.

  78. avataram November 13, 2013 at 7:44 am


    The problem is that when The New Yorker, updated the Q&A, they kept the original date of the first Q&A – November 4th, giving everyone the impression that the reference to Corrie was there right from the day the story was published. They also deleted a comment by Ethan, a reader of this blog, who discovered the connection to the specific Munro story and called it out first.

    This was dishonest of the New Yorker, but we have been disappointed by them in many ways this past week. Trevor is right in saying that the reference to Munro and Corrie was added after many complaints from several readers.

    I was reminded of a poem by Robert Graves today morning. In response to a complaint from a newspaper that he used outdated words like Tilth, and withheld 100% approbation from modern writers, he wrote:

    Gone are the drab monosyllabic days,
    When “agricultural labour” still was tilth;
    And “100% approbation”, praise;
    And “pornographic modernism”, filth;
    Yet still I stand by tilth and filth and praise.

    I am sure the author and The New Yorker have used complicated words and concepts to justify this episode, which for me are adequately captured by the monosyllabic word – Theft.

  79. avataram November 13, 2013 at 8:17 am

    Trevor – from what you say, I understand that if the New Yorker apologizes to Munro, it will be done privately. It makes sense to stop calling out for a public apology.

  80. Lee Monks November 13, 2013 at 9:14 am

    I can only suggest in advance to any apologists for Okparanta that I mean nothing personal in my following opinion of the matter.

    The level of plagiarism we’re talking about is appalling: there is room for only the flimsiest of defences there, but why bother, really? It’s pretty outrageous. The issue is surely how much damage-limitation the magazine is prepared to pursue, as it surely should by apologising to Alice Munro, publicly (there should be no readers anywhere unaware of the level of theft involved) and explaining how the whole thing came to pass within such a small timeframe. It seems shoddy editorially from such an otherwise great publication. I’m not sure there’s any point attacking the author of Benji: their pitiful conduct speaks volumes.

  81. Archer November 13, 2013 at 10:30 am

    I appreciate and respect Sophie K’s alternative reading of the situation, but I do have to differ on the point of this being a case of an “established” writer taking on a well-known work. Okparanta is not an established writer (this is her first piece for the TNY is it not?) and though Munro is obviously very famous, “Corrie” isn’t exactly a well-known story (I wouldn’t even call it one of Munro’s more famous stories?). The Lorrie Moore and Haruki Murakami examples are VERY different.

    I also think this sets a dangerous precedent. Can I just take an Alice Munro collection off the bookshelf, pick and story and basically re-tell it in Turkey or Singapore or New Zealand? And have it published in TNY? I realize that art is “remade” all the time. This is quite common in cinema. (For example, Martin Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED, a very successful film incidentally, is a remake of a Hong Kong movie called INFERNAL AFFAIRS.) But, usually permission and rights have to be granted, and the source is openly given credit. That was not the case here, and TNY’s handling of it afterward (making an evasive and somewhat misleading amendment to the Q&A) has left much to be desired.

  82. Betsy November 13, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Ethan – how long was your comment up on The New Yorker web-site? When did you put it up and when was it taken down? what did it say?

  83. Mike November 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Looks like the campaign to make this out as a “conversation” between two writers is in full swing:

    The question that addresses “Benji” is towards the end of the interview.

    I agree with Archer about this being a dangerous precedent. To me, everything about this is seedy, and unworthy of a publication like TNY.

  84. Mike November 13, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    I think as a writer wanting to make it into TNY, I’d converse with one of George Saunders’ stories next..

  85. avataram November 13, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Given what Mike has shared – does it make sense to write to Alice Munro’s publishers – both in Canada and the US and report this formally? I dont think The New Yorker will do it.

    I also loved this – The three endings of Alice Munro’s “Corrie”. I had not come across this earlier.

  86. avataram November 13, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    The point of sharing the revisions to “Corrie”‘s ending is to confirm that the story’s copyright is owned by Alice Munro. One of the comments mentioned that The New Yorker may own the copyright.

    Munro does not use social media. But her friend and fellow Canadian author, Margaret Atwood is on twitter. One way to reach Munro will be to reach Atwood. I thought of doing it, but feel it is Trevor’s call.

    Here is Munro celebrating her Nobel with Atwood:

  87. Arleen November 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    Whoo — two very different women, two very different styles. I just can’t help imagining Atwood’s response to someone ” having a conversation” with one of her stories.
    The issue is that if your work is having a conversation or paying homage to someone else’s, you is spell it out at the outset. ie. “Benji”, A Nigerian Echo
    of A. Munro’s “Corrie”.
    I agree with a previous comment that this sets a sad precedent for TNY.

  88. Trevor November 13, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    My personal goal at this point is to solicit more perspective, particularly from those who disagree with the position most of us here have voiced.

    I hesitate to make the call for anyone else, though, but ask only for civility here in this thread (and I appreciate that I haven’t felt the need to say anything to anyone yet).

  89. Rosalind November 13, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Tobias Wolff writing in Old School, describes how he was expelled for plagiarism. Who determines the standard?

  90. ethan November 14, 2013 at 2:08 am

    Two-and-a-half big points, and a note to Betsy.

    First of all, the interview contradicts itself. In the original interview, Okparanta herself said: “I didn’t want to make too many explicit references because I thought that there were already enough details in the story to infer the country. I think the city is even mentioned at one point. Also, I think “Benji” is a pretty universal story. To an extent, the setting is irrelevant, because at the core, it’s the kind of story that could take place anywhere.” Read the last two sentences again! Then, the addendum to the interview is all about Nigeria. Nigeria this, Nigeria that. The story is unique because of its Nigerian aspect. I think she got it completely right in the original comment: the setting does not matter, the story could have taken place anywhere. The issue of wealth disparity and religion are hardly unique to Nigeria, and what’s more, they were fully present in “Corrie.” Also, the additional answer is very defensive. Or at least, it seems to be directly answering this blog. The question itself is not an attack, but the answer —insists on its uniqueness, rather than its inspiration from Munro or its conversation with her.—

    Second, on how to proceed (and I think we should!) we have to ask ourselves where our responsibilities lie. If we think Alice needs to be notified, we should notify her. If we think Okparanta, The New Yorker, or both need to be “brought to justice,” or at least, “face public trial,” we should do that. Or, is our responsibility more to the public than to the New Yorker, such that we attempt to inform the public of what a dirty magazine the New Yorker is for colluding with Okparanta (this is different than the last option, as we assume their guilt and our purpose is different)? Do we have a responsibility to the public to tell them they were tricked? That is, even if Alice doesn’t care that she wasn’t given much credit for the story, does the public deserve to know they did not read a fully original story? The underlying point of this, to me, is that the integrity of the Magazine is at stake. A major author has just been (clearly, in my opinion) copied in the same magazine that published her! If this continues, the reputation of the New Yorker will fall, and I think the whole writing world will suffer. The writing and reading community really looks up to the New Yorker, myself and Okparanta included. there are so many major authors who publish exclusively at the magazine, and it has by far and away the widest readership of any literary publication. With their influence comes their responsibility with maintaining the art form, and allowing such clear “Theft” really brings into question the quality of the magazine. While I would love for their reputation to be untarnished, it seems so wrong for them not to acknowledge what happened with this story and, as others have said, sets a bad precedent, not only for the magazine, but for all of literature. I mean really, I would have been embarrassed to submit such a directly copied story even to my professor.
    And as someone who wants to pursue an MFA, should I simply pick a New Yorker story written in 1963 and rewrite it for my application sample?

    Half point: I think Okparanta was unaware that Alice was going to receive the Nobel Prize (thus increasing her readership and Okparanta’s chances of getting discoverd) because of the amount of time it would have taken to write the story, then submit it and pass it through TNY’s editing process. In fact, I would not be surprised if she threw up when Alice won the prize.


    Betsy, thank you so much for your kind words. It does seem that I was the first to find this, but I don’t think the issue was in wide circulation at the time, so probably many others would have noticed, regardless. I had dreamed of the New Yorker saying my name, even in a “Letter to the Editor.” Instead, they deleted my comment… I believe I put it up the day after I read it. So it was up Friday, and stayed at least until Monday night, which is the last time I checked. I presume they deleted it when they updated the interview. It said, roughly: “Has anyone else read Corrie? It was published in this magazine Oct. 11 2010. It is remarkably similar.” It may have continued (I don’t remember) “to be clear, I think Benji is copied.” Betsy, perhaps you can keep me in mind when you start your own magazine, and publish my work or hire me :) I had thought of making my own blog, and even made a post post about this – but now that I’ve started a job (First job ever, on Monday) I don’t see myself having the time… I need to spend time on my own writing-I hope to pursue an MFA. I will certainly comment on here more, though; I’ve read quite a few blog posts but kept quiet. I appreciate everyone else’s comments as well. Even though I am in strong agreement with almost everyone, you have been posing new angles and points.

  91. ethan November 14, 2013 at 2:16 am

    Also, to Mike: I actually think they do a very good job with the variety. George Saunders is quite different from Alice Munro. And they do a decent job with translated work as well. Also, there were several “non-classic” stories, that is to say, experimental, that were recently published. The Murakami story is certainly different, but I’m thinking of “13 Wives,” and “The Breeze.” I also read zoetrope and Paris Review, both of which I hold in high regard. I would read more, but my local bookstore doesn’t carry others.

  92. ethan November 14, 2013 at 2:32 am

    one LAST post. In regards to those who are concerned about the author’s well-being, I think this is certainly valid. I have personally been affected by suicide, in more ways than one, and recently. Also, I would certainly appreciate, if I were in the author’s position, a quiet reprimand as opposed to a career-ending battle. I just wonder two things: is the issue too large to keep quiet? (it very well might not be) And can we refrain from punishing people because we are concerned about them? It’s not like we even have reason to believe she is suicidal. Perhaps I should have threatened suicide to the MFA programs that rejected me…. My statement of purpose could have read: “Let me in! Or else!”

    I do think this is a public issue, and should be handled publicly, though I think my last post should suffice as to my opinion.

  93. Paul Epstein November 14, 2013 at 5:59 am

    One thing to bear in mind is that different imaginative minds work in different ways. It is absolutely plausible for someone to read a story, internalise the details, and then reproduce plot elements and other images from the story, without having any awareness that their origins lie in a source other than one’s own imagination.
    Admittedly, the author has not said anything like that in her own defence. But the above very common phenomenon shows that no one should have said anything critical of the author before the author had an opportunity to address the issues.
    I agree largely with Sophie K. After reading Corrie, various questions could be asked like: What if the gender roles were reversed? How would it be if the characters were older? How would it be if the story was set in Nigeria? Benji is an attempt to answer such questions.
    I enjoyed reading both stories, and learned a lot from both of them. Actually, I enjoyed reading Benji more.
    I have a different perspective to others because I’m not one of the literati, and I don’t write fiction or attend creative writing workshops etc. I work as a mathematician and analyst for a corporation.

    Paul Epstein

  94. avataram November 14, 2013 at 6:45 am

    I remember Ethan’s comment ended with “To be clear, I think Benji is copied”. The comment was deleted – around 815am in New York on November 12, when the updated Q&A was posted.

    Jonathan Shainin, the recently hired online editor of TNY, bears responsibility for not updating the date on the updated Q&A and for deleting Ethan’s comment.


    Professor Charles May posted a response on this issue: “I do feel, however, that “explanation” above is, as my father used to say, “a day late and a dollar short.” Here is his post:

  95. Betsy November 14, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Professor Charles May’s candor and concision makes this post well worth reading, especially in light of his stature.

    Wikipedia says of him:

    “Charles E. May has published a number of scholarly books on short stories: Short Stories Theories, The Modern European Short Story, Edgar Allan Poe: A Study of the Short Fiction, Fiction’s Many Worlds, and The New Short Story Theories – and over 200 articles to such journals as Studies in Short Fiction, Style, and The Minnesota Review.

    May is Emeritus Professor of English at California State University, Long Beach. Other academic positions he has held include president of the California State University English Council, and chairman of the C.S.U.L.B. English Department.”

  96. Betsy November 14, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Paul – thank you for your careful commentary and your several worthwhile points. Your training as an analyst is reflected in your calm look at things from another point of view. I hope my reply strikes you as being in the same spirit.

    Your comment that you enjoyed Okparanta’s story very much – perhaps more than Munro’s “Corrie” – is important and thought provoking.

    We have not had time here to investigate Okparanta’s obvious talent. .

    If Okparanta had made “fair use” of Munro’s story, the comparison of the two stories would have been a fascinating exercise. Under the circumstances, our attention is diverted.

    (I would direct readers to Wikipedia’s extensive article on the topic of “Fair Use”, which describes under what conditions copyrighted material may be used without permission.

    Another serious issue is the degree to which the extremely prestigious University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop addresses its students in the ethics relevant to writers and “Fair Use”.

    Many University departments run courses in the ethics. In Massachusetts, public school teachers are given training in ethics by their systems. Many hospitals now have a trained “Ethicist” in their employ.

    “Appropriation Art” is in the air in some circles, but courses in ethics are in the air in others. The fair use of one’s power and position being a naturally difficult challenge, the study of ethics can provide a useful rein on ego.)

    Nevertheless, Paul, that you found meaning and enjoyment in Okparanta’s story is both significant and poignant. I am glad you took the time to write on Okparanta’s behalf.

  97. avataram November 14, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Also, as Ethan is too polite to link to his blog, here it is –

    I feel Professor May gives Okparanta too much of a free pass, saying only she knows if their was an “Intention” to copy. The number of plot point similarities Ethan has listed clearly indicate that “intention” was very much there.

  98. Lee Monks November 14, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I think it’s all the more lacking in self-perception on Okparanta’s part that she has chosen to terminally besmirch herself in stealing someone else’s story and passing it off (and backtracking later) as her own work. It’s tragic and idiotic: doubtless Okparanta has talent and I hope she writes something brilliant and completely original in future. As for now she has a few tawdry ideas that she could do with dispensing with.

    As for the New Yorker, I daresay Jonathan Shainin might be perusing the job ads whilst hiding in a cupboard somewhere.

  99. Betsy November 14, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Avataram – I think one of the important things to take away from Charles May’s blog piece is his point about Munro’s complexity. There is a movement of thought in Munro that is astounding. Ethan also alludes to this in his blog piece.

    Trevor and I have been giving Munro a close read, and already in her twenties, Munro is compressing small universes of right, wrong, psyche and society into not just a novel, but into the short story. Her work is the two Eliots but in some new compressed form, like a ship in a bottle. It is the compression and multiplicity of Munro that astounds and gives such pleasure, together with everything she leaves out. Plot points are just the beginning. The way she moves from one small plot point to the next is usually a mesh of suggestion, hint, omission, wisecrack, blunt talk, gentle empathy, philosophy, image. In Munro, the details all talk to one another.

    I believe Professor May addresses these issues, and, in a way, his blog piece honors Munro with his concision and honesty. That someone of his stature would risk his reputation with such directness is surprising. In that way, too, he honors Munro.

    But he has been a department chair, which means he has faced these issues before. Hiring, firing, and tenure are the natural province of the department chair along with the evaluation of writing. He says Okparanta’s paragraph in Page-turner is gobblygook. From an English department chair, this is not a “free pass”. This is an F; this is an evaluation no candidate wants to receive on any submission of writing, especially a crucial paragraph.

  100. avataram November 14, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    I got a totally different perspective on this from a friend. I am trying to paraphrase what he said for this forum.

    “So what? (If she copied). This is the year Chinua Achebe died. He was so great a writer, far greater than anyone who has been awarded the Nobel in the last 20 years. He never got the Nobel. The Nobel committee should have given it to him or decided not to award anyone the 2013 Nobel for Literature, as they decided in 1948 not to award the Nobel for Peace, because the most deserving candidate, Gandhi died. Why give it to some short story writer? It is clever of a Nigerian girl to pull a fast one on Munro and on the New Yorker one month after she was awarded the Nobel”.

    This is definitely not my view – I love both Achebe and Munro – but it is a view opposing the general consensus in this blog, so I just thought I will put it out there.

    There were calls for a Posthumous Nobel for Achebe – this news item speaks of it:

  101. Mike November 14, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Well, but she must have “written” the story long before the Nobel was announced. It doesn’t add up. And for me, allowing for that time frame, writing, submitting, waiting for the New Yorker to accept or decline the story, her decision to rewrite “Corrie” must have happened not long after its original publication! I still can’t even guess at the thought process involved there. How do you read a story that was just published and think, “Yes, now is clearly the right time to hear this story again!”

  102. Trevor November 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    That’s a most unique alternate perspective, avataram! This is all just fine because Achebe didn’t win the Nobel Prize? Ha ha ha!

  103. Archer November 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    The thing that surprised me most about the interview Mike posted earlier is the discovery that Okparanta is a creative writing professor! Surely, somebody in that position would most fully understand the implications of this.

    I also want to thank Ethan for his dogged detective work. Everything that he’s brought to light has made me even more convinced that there’s an alarming level of disingenuousness at work here. Additionally, Okparanta seemed to suggest that she had the basic plot of her story, and THEN decided to model it on “Corrie”. Does this not seem like a contradiction to you? (Either it was a coincidence or deliberate.) Did she have a “con” plot in mind, stumble on Munro’s story and just decide it would be preferable to essentially copy it?

    I feel quite strongly that we are owed a better explanation than the one we’ve gotten (the updated Q&A).

  104. avataram November 14, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Betsy, I agree with you – Prof May takes both Okparanta and the New Yorker to task for the copying and the coverup in such a forthright manner that both Okparanta & The New Yorker will find it difficult to bury this issue and move on.

    He seems to give the benefit of doubt (what I called a Free Pass) to Okparanta only in saying that only she knows if she copied intentionally. He left the possibility for her to use the unintended plagiarism defense. Something on the lines of “I loved the Munro story so much, I must have internalized it without knowing it and when I wrote my story, somehow it ended up being a copy of Munro’s”. All I tried to say (and sorry it came out very wrong), was that Ethan’s post is so thorough that it takes away the possibility of her using even this defense.

  105. ethan November 14, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    With all the compliments, i feel like this thread should go on my resume.

  106. Mike November 14, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Not sure we’re going to hear more on this from TNY or Okparanta..

  107. pauldepsteinPaul Epstein November 14, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    I can’t help feeling that some of the reactions are out of proportion. For something to be a scandal, someone needs to be harmed. As a reader, I don’t feel I was harmed, and I think I’m an exceptionally picky reader. (For example, there’s a Lotto reference in “Corrie” and I don’t get that because the story’s set in the 1950’s so Lotto seems like an anachronism. I’m sure the fault is in my reading, rather than in Munro’s writing, but it shows my pickiness that I worry about things like that.)

    Clearly there are similarities between Benji and Corrie that were discovered by a writer on this thread. Pointing the similarities out is interesting and a service to the literary community. Commenting on whether or not the appropriation works is also valuable. But demanding that the New Yorker responds and putting the author and the New Yorker on trial doesn’t seem helpful or proportionate.

    Basically, if Okparanta contravened fair use, and was thereby unoriginal, the natural and appropriate penalty for that is that others are free to say why they think it’s unoriginal. Lawyers and investigations etc. shouldn’t be part of the process.

    Since I enjoyed the story very much after reading Corrie, I’m not inclined to join in the chorus of criticism.

    Paul Epstein

  108. avataram November 14, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    We may not hear more from TNY, but Okparanta is busy selling this “Conversation between Benji & Corrie” idea. On 16th, she is in Brooklyn attending Afrilit 2013. On 18th she is in St Louis at a River Styx Literary meet, probably selling this idea again. We may have to read more interviews with NoViolet Bulawayos.

  109. Roger November 14, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    In response to the claim that no one has been harmed: Consider that if scene-by-scene, line-by-line “similarities” like this were to be tolerated, real fiction writers would lose their incentive to create. Why bother, after all, if an imitator can simply take the writer’s story, recast it as her own, and sell it for less than the actual author?

    Once the Munros of the world stopped creating, the imitators would be left with no more superb writing to steal. And all of us picky fiction readers would be left with nothing enjoyable to read. So even if you believe you haven’t been harmed at this point, you’d end up being harmed if readers didn’t get riled up about what the pirate-writer has done.

  110. Mike November 15, 2013 at 3:54 am

    I agree, Roger. I also think she’s harmed all those young writers who aren’t established yet with a dozen New Yorker stories to their name. You’re not going to see anyone’s first TNY story for a long while now, simply because they’re not going to run that risk again. They can’t afford a second Okparanta.

  111. Paul Epstein November 15, 2013 at 5:34 am

    I’d like to digress slightly to discuss one of the works in question. As mentioned in my previous posting, I was puzzled by the Lotto reference in “Corrie.” Did the story move forward from the 1950’s without me noticing? Did Lotto exist in the 1950’s? Could anyone enlighten me?

    Thank you.

    Paul Epstein

  112. Betsy November 15, 2013 at 6:06 am

    Paul – Today you can buy “vintage” Milton Bradley Lotto games on Ebay dated 1932, 1936 and 1939, not to mention one from 1900.

  113. Betsy November 15, 2013 at 8:49 am

    The issue of appropriation art interests me. The New Yorker has now run a series of pieces in which appropriation art appears to be either a technique or a subject, and in which writings of others have been appropriated in any of a variety of ways.

    The first I noticed was Lucie Brock-Broido’s poem “Heat” that appropriated material without citation from two newspaper articles in the New York Times which I wrote about here.

    Then two weeks later, Billy Collins had a poem entitled “Tanager” which clearly mentions using material from an NPR story.

    Then we have this story by Chinelo Okparanta “modelled” on Alice Munro’s story “Corrie” and which is outright appropriation without credit or remark.

    This week, in “Find the Bad Guy” Jeffrey Eugenides uses material from an author who is never cited, but whose work is clearly credited by sneaking the book title into the narrative. In fact, his title, “Find the Bad Guy”, is a phrase that that author, who is a therapist uses in therapy and in her book. This story is clearly an homage to Dr Sue Johnson. There is nothing devious about it. But the story is also clearly a work of original art inspired by Sue Johnson’s ideas.

    What follows below will not interest most people, and I admit, it’s convoluted to the point of being boring. But getting a feel for “Appropriation Art” is sort of detective work, and detective work can boring. Think of all those files that are integral to every episode of “Law and Order”. And then – Bingo!

    Proceed at your own risk.

    An essay relevant to all this is available on-line:
    “Mess and Message: Ted Berrigan’s Poetics of Appropriation” by Riva Wolf. ( ) Anybody interested in how “Appropriation Art” has appeared and evolved would find this essay worthwhile. Remember, though, I am not a fan. I like to take pictures of pictures in museums. I don’t think that makes me an artist – that makes me a journalist. Don’t shoot the messenger. I am simply saying – there are some people, maybe a lot of people, who think this kind of thing is okay, and here is one more take on how they think. (all of this is from the Journal Interval(le)s, II.2- III.1 Fall 2008/Winter 2009)

    In this essay Wolf describes the way in which Ted Berrigan (1934-1983) appropriates the work of other writers, especially Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery. IRegarding his poem “Frank O’Hara’s Question”. Wolfe quotes Berrigan as saying: “[This poem] is entirely by [John Ashbery], i.e. some quotes from Frank [O’Hara] surrounded by prose by John, which I ‘found’ a la Andy Warhol…(that is, I simply put a frame around the particular section which then became my whole poem. I neither changed nor shifted a word.”

    Wolfe talks about how ” ‘personalization’ was a part of Berrigan’s poetics of appropriation.’ ” Personalization is when you add little touches of your own to someone’s else’s work.

    According to Wolfe, Berrigan was perfectly happy copying Ashbery or O’Hara; it was a kind of emulation or admiration. But she also goes to some length to discuss the way in which appropriation is a technique that “outsider” artists employ – that Berrigan, in particular, was uncomfortable in the presence of all these sophisticated people with Harvard or similar degrees, and that he adopted an appropriation technique out of discomfort. To me, he is signalling deference and admiration, signalling that he knows what’s what and who’s who and he is making application to become an insider. Making application and signalling deference are not really art. They have to do with art and education, but these actions are not art. But that’s just me.

    In a wonderful and interesting “Paris Review” 1983 interview with John Ashbery, the poet was asked he liked to “tease or play games with the reader” He replied,

    ” It’s all right if it’s done affectionately, though how can this be with someone you don’t know? I would like to please the reader, and I think that surprise has to be an element of this, and that may necessitate a certain amount of teasing. To shock the reader is something else again. That has to be handled with great care if you’re not going to alienate and hurt him, and I’m firmly against that,”

    I suppose it’s all a matter of where you stand – Lucie Brock-Broido shocked me with “Heat”, Billy Collins didn’t, with “Tanager”. Jeffery Eugenides pleased me enormously in “ind the Bad Guy”. Chinelo Okparanta shocked almost all of us on this blog.

    I side with Ashbery – who says he’s “against” the kind of thing that serves “to alienate or hurt” the reader.

    So just as I think Berrigan is “signalling” that he knows what’s what and who’s who when he copies Ashbery and O’Hara, I think when Okparanta copies Munro, she is signalling that she knows what’s what and who’s who and she is making application to join Munro’s crew. It’s weak position, especially when it’s accompanied by something that alienates the reader – using Munro without respecting her with credits.

    Again, I think the New Yorker has been on an appropriation art kick. This publication of Okparanta’s work was a mistake, in my opinion, in all the ways listed by all the commentator here, and one more.

    Munro is 82. She has had health issues and is not well enough to travel to accept her Nobel. She thus has admitted that she is not at full strength. I am reminded of a Sasha Baron-Cohen prank – in which he pushes an old woman in a wheel-chair off the stage to her death at an awards ceremony, and him announcing in so many words – who cares – this ceremony is not about her – it’s about me.

    Of course, that was all a joke, and it’s funny. In this case, Okparanta has pushed the elderly, unwell Munro aside and it’s not funny.

  114. Mike November 15, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Many good points in Betsy’s entry. I was not aware this was a pattern of sorts in TNY. I must say, that troubles me even more. There is also the question of measure, of how much you can take from a piece for it to feel like a homage, and in Benji, it’s not even close. I also find the term appropriation art deeply misleading, since it feels more like a hijacking than anything else. I think we, as the readers, need to send a firm message that this is not what we want.

  115. Archer November 15, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Betsy, thank you for the informative post! The issue of appropriation is indeed an interesting one. There’s a fine line; one person’s artful appropriation is another person’s plagiarism. But I agree that this particular instance crosses that line. I don’t think anybody here, for instance, would accuse James Joyce of “plagiarizing” Homer’s ODYSSEY. Or assert that WEST SIDE STORY plagiarized ROMEO AND JUILET. Zadie Smith’s ON BEAUTY was openly modelled on Forster’s HOWARDS END (and her title is also taken from Elaine Scarry’s non-ficiton text, ON BEAUTY AND BEING JUST). But those things were either cited or blatantly pointed to within the work.

    Also, most of these cases (such as the recent Lorrie Moore and Haruki Murakami examples) seem to involve appropriating famous texts by long-dead authors. Paul Epstein asked who this hurts. Well, Alice Munro is still alive. I can’t presume to speak for her, but I wonder if she is happy about this. (Though, if she were to come out and express her approval, that would certainly shut me up.)

    My position is that the story should never have been published by TNY at all (I echo the sentiment of wondering why we need a story with the same plot in the same magazine a mere three years later). But since they did so, and have the practice of including an author Q&A with the story online, why was that opportunity not used to immediately identify the “appropriation”? Before the amended interview, Okparanta said that “a number” of stories served as a “model” for her. Why not name THE story that clearly served as THE model? It boggles the mind.

  116. Archer November 15, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    I should also add that I don’t think it’s necessarily “appropriation” to write a fiction piece that is inspired by actual events.

    For example, Joyce Carol Oates’s haunting “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” was inspired by real-life murders. I assume Oates read news articles about those cases, but does that mean she appropriated them? I wouldn’t say so. Incidentally, that story was dedicated to Bob Dylan because she was apparently inspired to write it after listening to one of his songs. As per Wikipedia, I should add — must cite sources! ;)

  117. avataram November 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    This thread has been like a wonderful literature seminar. Munro, Prof Charles May, Betsy’s points on Prof May and on appropriation art and now references to Elaine Scarry & Zadie Smith. Like Paul Epstein, I am an analyst with no formal education in literature, but I seem to be getting one right now.

  118. Lee Monks November 15, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Some of the apologist missives regarding this have been disastrous. I only hope they’re hopeful rather than expectant.

  119. Artsy November 15, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    Informative, insightful discussion. But even with all the points raised, I’d think that given the level of similarities between “Corrie” and “Benji”, the connection may have even been meant to be discovered, I mean, it’s in your face. If you read a story and it reminds you of another, perhaps that’s the point, though of course failure to disclose intent and specific influence (Corrie) is an issue. I hope Okparanta learns from this, she may have thought she was doing something interesting – young writers have a lot to learn, and will make silly mistakes, they are not perfect. But I must say I’m more interested in the witch hunt that seems to be going on here – sniffing out Okparanta’s other stories for connections to other works though I’m sure we’d know something by now if anything was found, and especially the fact that some of this talk is actually getting into details of Okparanta’s whereabouts in the coming week. Really? If that’s not creepy and stalkerish, I don’t know – but this seems highly unusual for someone interested in just this conversation — somebody on this thread may have personal issues with Okparanta.

  120. Roger November 15, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    Or maybe someone hurling accusations of witch-hunting, creepiness, and stalking have some kind of close personal relationship with Okparanta….

  121. Roger November 15, 2013 at 5:52 pm


  122. avataram November 15, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    No one has any intentions to stalk Okparanta – just pointing out that the Okparanta marketing machine is going into overdrive, trying to sell this “Conversations between Benji & Corrie” theory.

    If it is really a homage, authorized by Alice Munro, why has Munro not said a word about it, or why has Okparanta not produced any correspondence that Munro or her agent or publisher authorised a nigerian version of one of her stories? Did she even write to Munro or Knopf?

    And if she is afraid of us analyzing other stories of hers for plagiarism, we looked at a couple of stories and found no plagiarism. You will also notice that Trevor, who runs this blog, explicitly told us not to pursue it- that is the reason no one has done it.

    None of us here is dying to read another Okparanta story. .

  123. [email protected] November 15, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Hello, long-time Munroe fan here as well as a new fan of Okparanta’s stories. Scanning these posts, I’m really quite surprised at the response to Benji. I enjoyed both Corrie and Benji, and the similarities don’t bother me at all. In fact, I appreciate that the new york times respects its readership and expects us to draw these connections, just like we have. It’s clear to me that the similarities between the two stories were supposed to be obvious, and the better question is whether we like the stories and why. Each stands alone, so I think discussion of craft on an individual basis could be quite satisfying and I’ll look elsewhere for that. One thing I specifically enjoyed about Benji is the continuation of the theme of pressure to marry and community pressure to conform in Nigerian culture, a theme I have enjoyed following through the author’s stories that I’ve read so far. This forum looks to me like it’s gone in an unfortunate direction of groupthink when there’s no secret intrigue to expose in the first place. I respectfully suggest that people who don’t like the author, don’t read her stories anymore, and those of us who enjoy the stories, continue to appreciate them!

  124. Michael November 15, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    TNY’s limited damage control, amending the interview and deleting one or more comments seems more than enough evidence they feel “caught” at something. While I find the notion the connection between the stories was meant to be unspoken and then uncovered an interesting one, as if it were all some vague stab at rather contrived performance art, to which I believe Betsy alluded, I find evidence to the contrary more compelling.

    What I see here is a group of happy individuals proud to read and contribute to a stellar Web site, further moved to be a part of something even more extraordinary–the chance to be part of a well intended, well justified debate over editorial decisions at TNY that have legal, moral and ethical implications to all involved: writers, readers, and TNY employees. That TNY likely has eyes on this coverage as well can only further contribute to this exuberant, zealous, energized discussion.

    If anyone could be characterized as such, Munro herself seems the most likely stalking victim here.

  125. avataram November 15, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    “If anyone could be characterized as such, Munro herself seems the most likely stalking victim here” – Mike

    Precisely. After reading the Eugenides .story this week, I was wondering if “Corrie” could get a temporary restraining order against “Benji”, as she may not consent to these forced conversations.

  126. Paul Epstein November 15, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    I’m glad that others are starting to agree with me. It’s surely up to the readers to decide whether the stories are too similar. The view that too much has been copied is absolutely legitimate but that is purely an opinion. Those who hold that opinion should accept that it’s just an opinion instead of talking about lawyers etc. and trying to create a scandal out of what is really just a negative opinion.

    It seems factually incorrect to imply that this campaign is necessary to preserve the art of short fiction. Many readers and writers are unfortunately deserting this form. There are many reasons for this socially complex trend. How many writers who no longer write short stories would give as their reason that they’re concerned that their work may be copied or plagiarised? Almost none, I would guess. This is absolutely a non-issue.

    Also, if Okparanta did say some slightly evasive things in her interview, so what?? Show me the person who always tells the absolute truth about everything when publicly interviewed?

    Paul Epstein

  127. Roger November 15, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    “How many writers who no longer write short stories would give as their reason that they’re concerned that their work may be copied or plagiarised? Almost none, I would guess.” Exactly the point. Plagiarism generally is frowned upon, and the stigma associated with it serves as a deterrent. Most of the folks posting here want to keep that deterrence going.

    Anyone who wants to claim Okparanta didn’t plagiarize is expressing pure opinion — opinion that flies in the face of countless scene-by-scene examples of copying pointed out in several earlier posts.

  128. Archer November 15, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    I just went on Twitter and realized that it took a good two days between Mookse’s requests for comment and TNY’s updated author interview. If this was indeed all so innocent, that seems like a long time to clear things up, does it not?

    I would also like to say that I don’t think we should ascribe dark personal motives to the commenters here, on either side of the argument (or get personal about Okparanta either — I think many of us have been sensitive about how any potential fallout could affect her). I can’t imagine anyone has any grudges against the author, and if anything, we are all fans of the magazine and take no pleasure in seeing them “trip up”.

    Speaking for myself, I guess the reason why I feel strongly about this is that I’m close with some people who were accused of plagiarism in college, even though they had absolutely no intention to do so. Yet they were still punished for it. As I’m sure we all know, most universities have very strict guidelines when it comes to plagiarism and there is absolutely no room for error or debate. I would really like to know: if an MFA student submitted this story in a writing class without giving any indication that it was based on another writer’s work, would that be acceptable? Surely, a publication of such repute as TNY should be held to even higher standards.

  129. Mike November 15, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    Archer: 100% sure this would not be acceptable. It’s crazy we’re even discussing this IMO. It’s not her story to write, it’s as simple as that. “Benji” is “Corrie” with a few tidbits of Nigerian life thrown in for good measure. I shudder to think of a future where this kind of treatment of an original work of art is not only acceptable but common practice. It degrades the whole creative process. What’s a work of art then, and what isn’t? Are we supposed to think Okparanta is on the same level now as Munro? Where do you get the arrogance to do this, at that age, as someone just starting out? Frankly, it makes me angry.

  130. avataram November 15, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    Kaavya Viswanathan’s case has interesting similarities with this one.

    I guess different rules apply to different plagiarists – if you copy Chick-lit, you are scarred for life. If you copy Alice Munro, you can claim you are paying homage.

  131. Betsy November 15, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    Welcome Artsy, welcome tsince – hello everyone. I’m about said out. Fatigue is taking over, and it’s hard to be cogent, fair, and not repetitive. It’s been interesting, and I truly welcome the various points of view.

    II need to turn my attention to the weekly story, however, which will roll around all too soon on Sunday night at midnight. I do not want to miss submitting a review of a poem next week. And I want to give my full attention to “Baptizing”, the last full story in “Lives of Girls and Women.” I want to do that with the full attention Munro gives all her characters.

    I have a huge week coming up next week. Regular Mookse and Gripes, plus a host of other things. So I will be turning a page on this story. I surely have said enough, already.

    But before folding my tent, I want to say no professional challenge I have ever faced has been so public for me as this past week has been for Chinelo Okparanta. I cannot really imagine what this has been like for her, and for that reason, a breather is the right thing for me right now. A breather might give me a sense of her reality.

    Regarding her story, whether a mistake was made or if it was made whoever made it, the week has surely been a test of her spirit. I wish her strength.

    We all need our vocations to survive. Chinelo Okparanta’s vocation is surely writing. What matters for her is that she find her way.

    I hope The New Yorker has supported her. I hope her former teachers have contacted her. I hope her friends have called to say they love her and hope she will keep writing. And I hope her family has been a safe haven in a difficult world.

    As Professor May said, it is difficult to know what happened or why. Only time will tell now, and time may remain silent on the issue after all.

    But if we think this situation is confusing, imagine the quandary she is in.

    It is, however, time for me to clear my desk and get started on the next thing (grandkids, photography class, Down syndrome conference, etc., etc., – like you.).

    I welcome all the newcomers – whichever your point of view. I hope to see you on the other side of the blog – Munro, podcasts, movies, prizewinners, poems, novels. There’s a lot of white space over there just waiting for you! See you there.

  132. Artsy November 15, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    I just found the details of Okparanta’s whereabouts strange, Avataram, that’s all. I still very much doubt that where she’s headed this coming week has anything to do with the marketing machine overdrive — author events usually get scheduled in advance, and of course we know the New Yorker story only just came out. That just doesn’t say overdrive to me, if there’s any overdrive it’s on this blog, but of course some discussions must be had. If one can bring these kinds of irrelevant details about the author’s whereabouts in public, then some of us will have to wonder about the kinds of things you’re doing in private, something is just not right here. I have already agreed that failure to disclose intent is an issue, but I don’t think anybody would need to show correspondence with Munro to prove its a homage, an acknowledgement should be enough, which we’ve established should have accompanied Benjy. I’m glad Trevor stopped the witch hunt, this blog still needs to be taken seriously unless it also serves as a circus. And it’s totally ok to know that “none of us here” is dying to read Okparanta’s stories, apparently you’re the group spokesperson. Good for you, it will keep your excellent tastes from getting polluted. And Tsince, I will indeed join you in reading Okparanta — if a child does something wrong, a pinch is enough — you don’t take a slab of concrete and bash its head. Even with this unfortunate incident, Okparanta is still talented and human and will hopefully grow and learn from her mistakes. And this is not just an Okparanta lesson, I for one have learned that imitation can be a form of plagiarism, and this helps me as a young writer. I didn’t necessarily know that this is not like rap music where people are always doing remixes etc. And by the way, if your resident detectives happen to know where Okparanta in the coming weeks, please keep us posted.

  133. Artsy November 15, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    Thank you, Betsy. Somehow I’m seeing this only after submitting my comment, my apologies — I didn’t mean to drag things. It sounds like it has been an intense experience for you, and you right, she might be in worse. Still, there are lessons to be learned from this thread, I’m glad to have read some of these comments. I look forward to the next story.

  134. Mark November 16, 2013 at 3:00 am

    This response is my opinion and while it does sadden me that an individual here must be called out (I would rather this be a hypothetical thought), Chinelo Okparanta is a grown woman who can make choices. Just like you and I, she must also expect that her choices have consequences.

    I’ve now read both stories. Clear reappropriation, if not outright theft.

    To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, I also think MFA programs don’t stifle enough writers. Perhaps Okparanta would have been well served to be stifled as a writer long ago, pre-Iowa, because – as most of us know – one’s basic human nature is very difficult to change as an adult. The kind and caring lover we had when we were 20 will likely be similar when we bump into them again 10 or 15 years later. The smarmy little roommate who was rumored to be a pilferer of things in college will likely still inhabit the same ethical galaxy when he is 43 and runs the local string of oil-change shops. The cousin whom you knew as a timid but proud girl at 18 will likely be a version of that self when you go to visit her on a drive across the country.

    I don’t know how Chinelo Okparanta was early on, but she seems by my reading to be a writer who has likely, but not definitively:

    1. Stolen a story and gussied it up to fool the first internal readers;

    2. Is caught;

    3. Is forced to address that theft (with likely an overnight heads-up as to the nature – if not the exact words – of the question that legal has advised she MUST answer in writing);

    4. Pulls an all-nighter to consider a careful answer (that she hopes will tamp down the furor but will probably live in infamy), and try to come up with a couple hundred words to become the sea anchor in her stormy career, the stabilizing force to protect against the next thirty years of a torrent of questions about the authenticity of every single piece she publishes; and

    5. Once that answer is published and the public gets to read it, is scrutinized further – and fairly – by many people and is parsed and picked and poked at until you realize there is something still exceedingly rotten in the state of Denmark.

    To wit, the relevant section in the updated Q&A:

    Q-Several readers have noticed the parallels between your story and Alice Munro’s story “Corrie,” which was published in the magazine, in 2010. You’ve mentioned that “Benji” was modeled on “Corrie”; can you talk about what you hoped that modeling would do?

    A-I am a big fan of Alice Munro’s writing, which I was introduced to while at Iowa. At the time, I couldn’t help thinking how so many of her stories felt so “Nigerian”: quite a few of her characters recalled people I knew in Nigeria, and some of her conflicts mirrored conflicts that were in some ways trademarks of Nigerian culture. I was working on a story about a poor couple in Nigeria who created an illness plot in order to get money from a rich, unmarried, pale-skinned short man. After reading “Corrie,” I wanted “Benji” to work as an homage to Munro regarding the parallel plot/structure points, but with different sociocultural contexts, in a way that gave rise to, I hope, a wholly new story. I think pieces of art can speak to each other where the craft is concerned, while also allowing the possibility for divergent discourses concerning the specifics of culture and society. That is, I hoped that this sort of modeling would help set up a discourse, particularly in terms of how space and culture can influence a story and how it is read. For me, it was key to ground my story in the culture of Nigeria. There was, for instance, the issue of a wealth divide, which is a topical issue in Nigeria, and is seen through the characters of Alare and her husband, versus Benji’s family. There was also the issue of religion. But, most of all, there was a focus on health care, because Nigeria is known for the way its élites and government officials (like Yar’Adua) have had to travel to foreign countries in order to get medical care, for lack of quality of care in our own country. This last bit formed the premise of my scheme and was a large part of my story.

    Ba. Lo. Ney. Utter and total olive loaf.

    Okparanta’s answer, especially the 98 words from “After reading…” through “…how it is read” – are the squirrely thoughts of a gutsick high school student who has been caught red-handed plagiarizing something for their college entrance essay and – in lieu of looking the college interviewer straight in the face and saying ‘I lied’ and getting the hard, but needed, early-life body-check to jiggle his compass – chooses to reinvent himself in a short space as a shrewd artiste, an ambitious thinker, a philosopher just dabbling in fiction to discuss more important questions of culture and society.

    With one choice, we can jump into an abyss that soon becomes home. We can shoot the works and hope the dice don’t settle till long after we’re gone. But these days – especially these electronic info days – it doesn’t work that way.

    I am all for compassion, but I also am tired of writers who gain success in the same sleazy ways that we expect (and know) from our politicians or businessmen or sports stars or even musicians. Perhaps I am an idealist, but when I sit down to read a story, I do want to believe it was created from some core sensibility that existed precisely at that one moment in the history of moments and came through the heart of one particular writer who – if they were to be snatched up by aliens after tapping out ‘The End’ – would leave a hole in the space time continuum that was shaped like no other hole that ever was or will be, a hole as unique as a snowflake.

    Say nothing of the bunkum that is TNY’s ham-handed and revisionist ‘fix’ (TNY needs some housekeeping, has for a while). This, I suspect is already being addressed by a crack squad of TNY’s attorneys, executives and other VIPs bunking in an Ontario hotel trying to explain to one of their magazine’s brightest contributors how their little team of way, way underqualified and overly-well-connected Fiction Interns got this one over on Treisman’s fill-in while she was away. (And if she wasn’t away, holy crapoli, this is a stinkeroo on her resume).

    Okparanta, is self-described as having OCD [See interview excerpt below] and seems, to me, to have some issues seeing a ‘cycle of wrongdoing’ in herself. (I’m going to buy the two stories referenced elsewhere in the comments that may have some relevance to this whole discussion). Her late addition to the Q&A tells me she needs something else than more validation of her ‘craft’ with further publication.

    Tom Waits has said, and I do believe it might be one of the most important things a person can learn – artist or architect, plumber or painter – ‘If two people know the same things, one of you is unnecessary.’ Boy, does that apply to this scandal. You pick whom.

    A consecutive portion of Rae Winkelstein-Duveneck’s interview with Chinelo Okparanta in The Iowa Review.

    RW: In your stories, there seems to be a high value placed on shared experiences – children bathing together or playing outside, families eating and attending church together— all in a sort of easy and consistent way. Is that sort of existence in your past, and would you like it to be in your future?

    CO: Yes, this communal nature of existence was somewhat my childhood experience—at least in an idealized version of my childhood. It is certainly something that I’d like to be in my future. It would seem that life would somehow be rendered more meaningful where there are shared experiences, etc. But then sometimes it occurs to me that I have grown very much accustomed to solitude, and perhaps that’s just as well.

    RW: Nneoma, the main character in “Story, Story!” who repeatedly poisons pregnant women, is moved to tears by these words in a sermon: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The words cause genuine penitence in her, though she will still attempt the same thing after hearing them. I get the sense from your writing that there is a deep interest in self-deception and in the importance and difficulty of clear-sighted self-examination.

    CO: Yes, we’re all quite adept at recognizing wrongdoing in ourselves and yet making excuses for our actions and in doing so repeating the cycle of wrongdoing.

    RW: Yet some people seem to be able to change such cycles. What do you think accounts for that difference?

    CO: I’m not exactly sure what accounts for the difference. Some people are probably just more introspective and more self-scrutinizing than others—more meditative as a whole, and perhaps more able to be honest with themselves. And, I suppose having a healthy dose of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder where morality is concerned does help to keep one from repeating a cycle of wrongdoing.

    RW: Interesting. You wouldn’t by any chance be referring to yourself regarding that condition?

    CO: Quite possibly.

  135. Mike November 16, 2013 at 5:42 am

    I think the reason we’re all still here, and new arrivals are still joining us, is not because anyone wants to see Okparanta punished. It’s because we have a desire to know how something like this can possibly come about. For my part, I remain unconvinced by the arguments of anyone supporting the story (who may have been sent here to water down the discussion, in some cases.. the history of Lotto games, etc.). They have been weak arguments, and downplaying the central fact: the parallels between both stories are not flimsy, and Okparanta was not “a little evasive”. The similarities could not have come about from having read “Corrie” a year before and remembering certain aspects. She must have had “Corrie” laid out on the table (or super-imposed on the wall) all the way while writing “Benji”, consulting Munro every step of the way. The fact that the order of events in both stories is the same down to minor details doesn’t leave room for other theories.

    But the thing is, we’ll probably never know. TNY won’t say anything further, because it’s TNY, and Okparanta won’t admit to the theft, because it would be a career-ender, and so that is understandable, too. They’re going to wait out the storm, and that’s what 99% of people would have done. Like Betsy, I’m growing a little tired. I’m drawing my own conclusions from this and moving on. I’ll give TNY a well-deserved break, and probably won’t be returning to Okparanta at all. There are many more exciting writers to discover.

  136. Mike November 16, 2013 at 5:50 am

    Oh, and I agree completely with Mark about the purpose, and life-changing qualities, of a good short story. It’s like discovering a new room in your house that you never knew existed – not coming home to find that someone painted the living-room blue.

  137. Paul Epstein November 16, 2013 at 6:28 am

    As always on this thread, accusations are being made without sufficient evidence, in this case against myself. I wasn’t “sent here to water down the discussion”. Ok, “may have been” was used, but it still sounds accusatory, and it’s still wrong. I already explained that I have no connections with the literary world, and I’d never even heard of the story or author until recently. I’m a fan of the New Yorker, and so I’ve often googled phrases from the New Yorker. These often lead to Cliff Garstang’s blog, and that’s how I discovered Cliff’s blog. Roger posted a link to this thread on Cliff’s blog.

    I didn’t understand the Lotto reference in Corrie because I saw it as a post-1950’s concept, and I still saw it that way even after googling “Lotto Canada”. Betsy mentioned the history of Lotto, which served as a direct (and excellent) reply to my question. I am very glad that my understanding of the Lotto reference has been resolved. If we can’t discuss the content of short stories on this forum, where can we discuss them?

    Archer said that “we shouldn’t ascribe dark personal motives to the commenters”. Since it’s apparently fine to say that I “may have been sent here to water down the discussion”, perhaps Mike should explain if and why he disagrees with what Archer said. I agree with Archer, and that’s why I haven’t challenged the motives of anyone.

    Paul Epstein

  138. Mike November 16, 2013 at 6:53 am

    Paul: My apologies. I wasn’t targeting you personally; the Lotto thing was the first thing that came to my mind, because it seemed such a bizarre detour. My reaction, however, was to the hot-blooded passion and fervor some comments displayed in support of “Benji” and its author, which for me clashed with the otherwise almost clinical discussion here. It seemed strange, as if they were defending a relative (or themselves). That sort of passion is out-of-place if you’re not personally involved.

  139. Paul Epstein November 16, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Mike: Apology accepted. My guess would be that the other defenders of Okparanta are not personally involved, just as I’m not, but that’s a guess. Consider this: Suppose someone was involved as a relative or partner for example, and wanted to defend the author. I don’t think that anything would be gained by concealing the connection. If someone posted from the point of view of the author’s sibling/partner/friend etc., I think that would enhance the interest, and that people would listen to that sympathetic viewpoint more, rather than less.

    Opinions and thoughts about these related issues vary hugely, from individual to individual, as do approaches to imaginative art, and I think that some comments have suffered from a failure to acknowledge such differences. For example, the view has been expressed that the copying must have been deliberate, and that the author couldn’t possibly have reproduced such details subconsciously. But how on earth can anyone be so sure about how another individual’s mind works?

    Similarly with regard to the passion, there are literally thousands (even millions perhaps) of reasons someone can feel passionate about the issues.

    My own opinion is unchanged. The connections between the two stories should have been acknowledged earlier. I liked both stories. I don’t feel that anything scandalous has occurred. Ok, you say that this degree of copying would be regarded as scandalous in an MFA programme. I’m happy to take your word for that. But I come here outside the literary world, explaining how I see the issues.

    Paul Epstein

  140. Mike November 16, 2013 at 9:23 am

    Paul: I would like it to having your relatives and friends review your book on amazon (anonymously, of course). They may truly like the book, but is that valuable insight for me as a buyer?

    Returning to the issue at hand, why don’t we compare it to the movies. What if a new director came along and made the movie “Midnight in Paris” again, a mere three years after the original, keeping the exact same sequence of scenes, and calling it “At Noon in Nantucket”. Wouldn’t you feel cheated? I can’t imagine a situation where that would make sense. Unless Gertrude Stein came back to life and wanted to correct a few scenes. But then again, she would be entitled to it.

  141. Roger November 16, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Those on this thread who have disputed that Okparanta plagiarized have been very conclusory in their assertions, stating generically that the stories merely have “connections” or similarities, trying linguistically to downplay what has occurred and fuzz it up. They have not addressed the numerous scene-by-scene, line-by-line, character-by-character copying that earlier posts have pointed out.

    I wonder why none of these individuals has advanced a reasoned argument supported by concrete examples – one that, for instance, catalogs the many ways the stories (in their eyes) differ, and/or demonstrates that some error has been committed by those who have quoted the respective stories’ matching scenes and dialogue.

  142. Betsy November 16, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    This has obviously been a very confusing, troubling event to everyone who has contributed to this commentary.

    The teacher in me knows that communication would benefit if the dialog focused on the story itself, as specifically as possible, without reference to the author. It is the story and all of its parts that are important.

    This is not easy to do. It takes a lot of time to read closely and write accurately. It is extraordinarily difficult to do so with two stories at the same time. It is best to address small sections. You will notice that Trevor’s posts usually only cover part of the story and always have direct quotation.

    For myself, I need a breather. I recommend reflection.

    We should remember that many people are reading what we write. We have an obligation of leadership and an obligation to Trevor, as well as one to both of the authors and also to each other. I think that obligation, especially of leadership, rests in focusing on the story.

    What matters in literature is what the literature says. If we have the energy to do it correctly, it should be the literature we address, in its own words.

  143. Mark November 16, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    I’m going to try to not get too worked up over the issue, but the apologists for her actions either

    i) are somewhat critical readers but are not creative artists and therefore cannot in any way appreciate the seriousness of what has transpired (hint: it’s tantamount to someone sticking their hand into your brain and pulling out a little of the grey matter before swallowing it and licking their lips or

    ii) are creative artists and know her – in person or by some affiliation of the heart – and realize the gravity of the original act and the weakness of the concomitant acts on her part and the growing lack of credibility that each act has and are just so bloody embarassed that it is their cosmic duty as friend or kindred spirit to weigh in on such a whopper of an event or

    (my favorite and my opinion) iii) are passionate and devoted, but not not critical or close readers, and truly honestly truly cannot distinguish the differences (or similarities) from any one story to the next and are just thankful that the stories are there and cannot, could never, fathom the type and weight of the energy it takes to spin a tale out of thin air and give it some gravitas, give it some lift, give it a nose, some eyes, a head of hair and a cheek that – while you know exists only flat on the page – you swear to god you can pinch

  144. Artsy November 16, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Mark, you went through all the trouble of finding, reading, and quoting the referenced interview only to arrive at this conclusion: “Okparanta, is self-described as having OCD [See interview excerpt below] and seems, to me, to have some issues seeing a ‘cycle of wrongdoing’ in herself. (I’m going to buy the two stories referenced elsewhere in the comments that may have some relevance to this whole discussion). Her late addition to the Q&A tells me she needs something else than more validation of her ‘craft’ with further publication.” I just wanted to express my condolences.

  145. Trevor November 16, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    This has been an engaging conversation from day one, and I want to thank everyone for your thoughts — I hope they continue.

    I also want to thank you all for keeping it relatively civil. Any time I’ve been about to come on here and “moderate” there’s been an apology issued before I got the chance.

    I do want to remind everyone that that’s how I expect things to continue. There’s no need, as we discuss our different conclusions, to employ any belittling language. Belittle an argument, by all means, and hopefully people can take that without taking it personally. But don’t belittle the person making the argument. Let this continue to be a conflict of viewpoints, not a conflict of personalities.

  146. Parker November 16, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    I read “Benji”; read “Corrie”; read “Benji” again. My immediate (and thus tentative) opinion is that “Benji” is definitely an improvement on what is a not uncommon storyline found both in fiction and in the annals of criminality: extortion under false pretenses, with a nice twist at the end. This kind of plot line is certainly not original with Alice Munro, so I don’t expect her to make much of a fuss. As for the alleged point-by-point correlation between the two stories– I don’t see them, and would appreciate if someone would enlighten this benighted reader by pointing them out in detail. The ending in both stories on how the deception is found out, for example, is entirely different in my opinion — though I found Okparanta’s much more overt, plausible and convincing,

  147. Paul Epstein November 16, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Mark’s trichotomy may well have some truth to it. I belong squarely in his category I). I’m not a writer and, as stated before, I work as an analyst and mathematician for a private corporation. I have done a few undergraduate-level creative-writing classes but none of my stories really worked, and, for better or worse, I lost all ambition in fiction writing. I hope I’m a creative person, though, and I’ve enjoyed getting letters published in well-known publications including the New York Review of Books. But, of course, it’s far easier to get letters published than creative pieces.

    I think it’s a dangerous argument, particularly for a creative artist, to imply that someone with a different non-writerly lifestyle wouldn’t understand the anger.

    I would hope that I and others can understand those with a different view to ourselves. I can be called an “apologist” because, broadly speaking, I defend the author but that doesn’t mean that I simply don’t understand the viewpoint of others.

    For example, I greatly enjoy spending a half-hour or so simply reading long lists of tennis scores: “… beat … 6-2 6-3 … beat … 6-4 5-7 6-3. Would the majority of those on this thread find this at all pleasurable? Almost certainly, no. Does this mean that they would have no understanding of how I can enjoy tennis scores? Hopefully, also no, because literary art is largely about understanding others.

    In response to Roger, I would totally agree that some plot elements etc. have been closely reproduced. I would hope everyone would also agree that it would be a falsehood to suggest (as no one has) that the piece contains no new writing whatsoever. Different readers have different thresholds as to how much copying can be done before they feel this is a scandal. Clearly, my threshold is different to Roger’s. Perhaps my view is outside the consensus of the literary community — that wouldn’t be particularly surprising.

    Paul Epstein

  148. Mark November 16, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    I too appreciate the civil tone here. So thanks for what i think is an important discussion.

    And Artsy, I don’t know why you are offering me your condolences. Would love to know more. If my parenthetical reference to two stories appears to you to refer to the original pieces of discussion, you are mistaken. I am talking about Okparanta’s ‘Design’ and another writer’s story that was published in Zoetrope that a commenter mentioned as possibly having authentication problems, too. I tried to lay out a fairly long and reasoned argument for my thinking on the topic. Your short post of 11.16.13 at 2:32 PM contains 28 words of your own sandwiched around my quote and (I might be a little thick), I just do not understand it.


  149. Mike November 16, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    What makes this discussion so difficult is also that there’s just no precedent for what Okparanta has done. Or, in any case, none that people found acceptable. Alice Munro is 82 years old. Of course she isn’t going to make a terrible fuss about this now. She doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. But neither has she come out in support of “Benji”, and I think this is telling. It would have been an easy thing to have the New Yorker issue a statement on her behalf, or even sneak in a little side note to Okparanta’s Q&A. It might still happen; we don’t know. But if she had been “in” on this from the start, I suppose we would have heard from her rather quickly in order to spare Okparanta, and TNY, the controversy. Since she hasn’t done that, I assume she was as surprised by it as we were. I might be wrong, of course..

  150. Roger November 16, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    In response to Parker’s request for evidence about the point-by-point correlation between the two stories: You’ll find it in many of the posts above; if you don’t want to read them all (understandable given the volume), check out Betsy’s Nov. 10, 3:57 post. I don’t believe anyone has contested the accuracy of what is pointed out there.

    Paul, you and I do agree on one aspect of this: I don’t think one needs to be a writer or artist to recognize what Okparanta has done and the gravity of it. If a mathematician had discovered something new and important (say, proved a difficult theorem, if that makes sense), published it in a scholarly journal, and then, three years later, attended a conference where another mathematician presented that same theorem as his own, but did so in a paper that was cosmetically different (say, printed in a different font), I suspect mathematician #1 would be duly outraged, as would his colleagues and supporters. Okparanta merely made cosmetic changes to the Munro story – mainly just moving the setting to Nigeria. So most of us commenting on “Benji” are duly outraged.

  151. avataram November 16, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Talking of plagiarism in mathematicians, there was a famous problem, chronicled in the New Yorker a few years ago. The person who really solved it (The mathematical equivalent of Alice Munro) was so disgusted by the attempts to take credit for it, that to this day, he has refused all awards for the solution, including the $1m Clay Millennium prize. One can keep worrying about the impact of this incident on the plagiarist. But what about the impact of this on a creative artist?

  152. avataram November 16, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    In response to Paul’s comment that many comments here appear to assume Okparanta’s guilt – There are two defenses possible in this case. One is the Intended Homage Defense – that it was an intended homage and TNY made an editing mistake in not saying so. The Second is the Unintended Plagiarism Defense.

    The only issue is that having used the first defense, Okparanta cannot use the second defense. They are mutually exclusive. Either there was intent or there was no intent.She has already chosen the first.

  153. Paul Epstein November 16, 2013 at 7:54 pm


    Using your own reasoning seems to in fact reinforce my point that some here wrongly assumed Okparanta’s guilt. Remember that even before the updated Q & A, many were accusing the author. Now, it’s true that no dramatic defence was ensuing from the updated Q & A. However, no one could have known that ahead of time. So it does seem that there was a rush to judgment which wasn’t justified by the facts.

    To illustrate the point I’m making, suppose the police stop and search someone for no reason at all and that person, by chance, happens to have drugs on them. Everyone who knows about civil rights agrees that this knowledge after the fact doesn’t justify the unwarranted search.

    So the fact that the author’s updated-Q-&-A defence was weak does nothing to justify the attacks on her which predated her having an opportunity to address the arguments.

    I was objecting to a style of argument which can be paraphrased like this “It can’t have been unintentional reproduction because so many plot elements were reproduced so faithfully.”

    My point is that this reasoning is wrong because even exact copying can occur unconsciously.

    It’s a complicated issue on many levels. My sympathies do lie more with the author than with those attacking her.

    She says it’s a homage to Corrie and I would agree it wasn’t the best or most convincing interview, but the attacks are too strident, in my opinion, and the strength of the new writing in the piece is being unfairly diminished by her critics.

    No, I don’t challenge the points of similarity that have been listed, but there is lots of originality in the piece, too.

    Paul Epstein

  154. Roger November 16, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Okparanta’s plagiarism was obvious well before she made her unconvincing defense. Posts in this thread pointed out the mimicry before the Q&A was revised because the plagiarism was apparent before the revision occurred.

    I don’t believe anyone critical of Okparanta on this thread has relied exclusively on the similarity of “plot elements.” As previous posts have demonstrated, dialogue and characters have been mimicked as well. The notion that this extensive, thorough an imitation could be done unconsciously strains credulity beyond any limit.

    Lots of originality? Seriously? Where?

    Earlier today, I stumbled across a quotation attributed to Jack Kerouac – it makes for good advice to Okparanta: “Put down the pen someone else gave you. No one ever drafted a life worth living on borrowed ink.”

  155. avataram November 16, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    There are some original elements in the story. Genders, Names, Setting, Ages have been changed. These are precisely the things that someone who knows plagiarism software like Ithenticate or Turnitin will change in order to escape detection. In case of TNY, they need not even bothered with this, because the digitization of TNY has been badly done so the digital archive is poorly indexed, and unsearchable. It is possible that TNY cannot run such software on their own digital history.

    Bare minimum changes have been made to “Corrie” to avoid detection by plagiarism detection software.

    Now, who has access to such software – someone who is a creative writing professor checking submissions from students. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  156. Roger November 16, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Yes, changes that are cosmetic, like the different font used by my hypothetical mathematician. Maybe it’s time to say res ipsa loquitur!

  157. Steven November 16, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Why are you guy’s making this a big deal? The author of the story was paying homage to Munro, hence the similarity in story titles. Besides, I don’t think the plot was pinpoint identical to “Corrie.”

  158. Intertextuality November 17, 2013 at 1:09 am
  159. Archer November 17, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Thank you for the Zadie Smith video, Intertextuality. However, if one reads Flaubert’s “A Simple Heart” and the Felix section of Smith’s NW, one would see that the two characters have very little in common, aside from the fact that they have similar sounding names and both die at the end. I think it’s interesting that Smith cites the Flaubert story as an inspiration for that section of her novel, but it would be a giant stretch to even call it homage. Smith takes the central conceit of “A Simple Heart” (to recount the seemingly uneventful life of an ordinary person and imbue it with meaning), but totally does her own thing with it.

    I respect all views on this matter, but it seems to me that defenders of the story are suggesting that the rest of us don’t understand what homage or appropriation is. I think we understand quite well, and are contending that “Benji” goes beyond what is acceptable.

    To go back to Munro herself, I read Eudora Welty’s THE GOLDEN APPLES on the recommendation of Munro (who cited Welty as a main influence and that book as her supreme work). It is a collection of interconnected stories set in a fictional Mississippi town called Morgana. You can see how it might have served as inspiration for LIVES OF GIRLS AND WOMEN’s Jubilee, but that is where the comparison ends. The plots, tone, language and sensibilities of both writers are very distinct. Let’s go back to Munro’s own sage words on the subject from her interview with TNY: “The writer I adored was Eudora Welty. I still do. I would never try to copy her—she’s too good and too much herself.”

  160. Paul Epstein November 17, 2013 at 6:29 pm


    As a defender of the author, I do understand that others understand the concepts of homage and appropriation. The key issue is what is “acceptable” in this context. Surely, readers have got the right to make up their own minds in this regard. I fully agree that points of close similarity have been exhaustively noted. Are those points of similarity “acceptable”? I would answer yes, but the majority of people who contribute most actively to this blog would answer “no”. Surely, “acceptability” is a matter of opinion in this context? I fully accept that there may be a consensus on this issue in MFA circles, and I may be outside of this consensus.

    I’d also like to point out that it’s wrong to say that only someone who’s not a literary artist would defend the author. If you look at Noviolet Bulawayo’s interview with the author, it’s absolutely clear that Bulawayo fully endorses the piece. I do not know if there are any other writers who back Okparanta but those who are attacking her need to acknowledge that she has at least one defender in the literary community.

    It also seems completely unfair to say that Munro’s silence indicates disapproval. What nonsense! A defender could equally say that the fact that Munro hasn’t joined the accusations of plagiarism means that Munro feels comfortable about it. Both conclusions from Munro’s silence are equally ridiculous.


    Thanks for sharing the youtube video. However, unless readers know who you are, they have no grounds for trusting the link. If you post a URL, you should post a few words to introduce it so that we know it’s not a virus link.

    Paul Epstein

  161. ethan November 17, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    If we can all see the similarities, I am very concerned that we can’t agree that this is theft. Paul, you are arguing that the themes are different, that Okparanta is exploring new ideas. The changed genders are not relevant. The location, by Okparanta’s own words (see my earlier post, in which I detail the rhetorical flaws of the interview, but which I will reiterate here, at least in part), is irrelevant. Please point to the themes and issues that Okparanta offers. In the interview she is only able to produce religion, wealth divide, and location. Religion and wealth divide were clearly present in “Corrie,” so I must say she has not adequately defended herself. The direction in which these themes are taken are quite similar, but if you want to say that they are different, I will concede that they are marginally different. But the important thing to realize is that the difference in these themes are not significant for the over arching story. There are NO significant issues raised by Okparanta that are not already in Corrie. However, I think the similarity of themes has already been adequately pointed out by myself and others. Paul, you said:

    —-“My point is that this reasoning is wrong because even exact copying —-can occur unconsciously….

    —-She says it’s a homage to Corrie and I would agree it wasn’t the best —–or most convincing interview, but the attacks are too strident, in my ——-opinion, and the strength of the new writing in the piece is being ———–unfairly diminished by her critics.

    —-No, I don’t challenge the points of similarity that have been listed, but —–there is lots of originality in the piece, too.”

    I hope that the following arguments and quotes will show you why I must side with Mike:

    —-“The similarities could not have come about from having read “Corrie” —-a year before and remembering certain aspects. She must have had —–“Corrie” laid out on the table (or super-imposed on the wall) all the ——–way while writing “Benji”, consulting Munro every step of the way. The —-fact that the order of events in both stories is the same down to minor —-details doesn’t leave room for other theories.”

    Okparanta admits in her addendum that Corrie was the basis for this story. This is not something that came about from her subconscious or unintentional internalization. She says herself that it was intentional.

    If it was intentional, the original should have been given much more reference within the story and should have been cited in the interview.

    Since it was not, TNY recognized that Alice Munro needed to be mentioned. This is extremely telling. If they felt the claims on this page were not valid, they would not waist their time changing anything. What this means, is that whoever edited the story and approved its publication —was not aware of the similarities to another story—. If they were, and decided to publish it anyway, they would have made a large section of the interview in tribute to Alice Munro. Let me be clear. Had the New Yorker known of the similarities, there is a 0% chance they would publish this story without acknowledging the original. Absolutely 0%.

    This reinforces my earlier point that Okparanta should have referenced the original more clearly. Not only did the New Yorker not realize there was an original of the story, many readers and blogs did not say anything about the original. As far as I know, had I not posted, Okparanta would have sold this story as her own to NoViolet and everyone else. As to that interview, I believe that either NoViolet did not read “Corrie,” or did not want to accuse Okparanta directly. And if she had, she certainly wouldn’t have published the interview about it, because Okparanta would not have agreed, and because it is not her place.

    Let me be clear where this brings us. Okparanta duplicated the story intentionally. She attempted to sell it as her own. She did not give any credit to Alice Munro; the whole world, including TNY, did not realize she was “paying homage” until the issue was brought up in this blog. Paul, that you think “Benji” is a moral retelling of “Corrie” is almost irrelevant: her actions, as well as those of The New Yorker are telling you it is not.

    Using someones ideas without crediting them is plagiarism.

    In a separate angle of attack, if anyone does not find the larger similarities in the story to be convincing of copying, I will make another post detailing some the similarities on a syntax, timing, and structural level.

  162. ethan November 17, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    2 more things; is anyone having trouble loading this blog?

    AND: if Okparanta thought her story was an ethical and valuable retelling of “corrie,” she would have been upfront about it.

  163. Betsy November 17, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    Hi Ethan –

    Yes, I have been having trouble for this past week. Sometimes it loads sometimes it doesn’t. My Firefox works with it, my Chrome doesn’t, but that may have something to do with the bookmark.

    Ethan – See the following analysis of column one only.

    The following list addresses 21 similarities in the first column between both stories, Corrie has about 15 columns and Benji has about 19.

    1. Both stories open at the dinner table., and both stories has an elderly parent entertaining a guest. Both stories have an adult child of the parent at the table, too.

    2. Both parents speak to the guest in the opening paragraph about money.
    Corrie’s father opens with: “It isn’t a good thing to have the money concentrated all in one family, the way you do in a place like this.”
    Benji’s mother says Benji has been “bequeathed such an expansive estate.”
    There is virtually no difference in the opening. Both parents are beyond the pall – no one in their right mind talks about family money to a dinner guest.

    3. Both parents insult their children by speaking as if they aren’t there. Both parents show no tenderness toward their child.
    Corrie’s father says, “I mean, for a girl like my daughter Corrie here. For example, I mean, like her.
    Benji’s mother says: If her son doesn’t marry, “People will begin to suspect.”

    4. Both stories tell us where Corrie and Benji is looking during the parental tirade.
    Corrie is quite direct, “looking their guest in the eye.”
    Benji is not direct. He is “staring at a point” above his mother’s head.

    5. Both children resist their parent’s insulting behavior, but in different ways:
    Corrie laughs at her father. Benji doesn’t laugh – he scowls.

    6. Both parents tell the guest how old their child is, but both parents get the number wrong.
    Corrie’s father is off by a year.
    Benji’s mother is off by two years.
    Both parents thus indicate a carelessness about their own child, not knowing the age. Parents almost always try to keep the ages of their adult children straight.

    7. Both Corrie and Benji correct their parents.
    Corrie corrects her father and gives him the correct age – “twenty-six”.
    Benji corrects his mother and gives her the correct age – “Forty-two.”

    8. Both parents attempt to save face.
    Corrie’s father says, “Go ahead…Laugh all you like.”
    Benji’s mother says, ”I don’t see the reason for the scowl.”

    9. Both Corrie and Benji resist their parents, somewhat in the manner of a teenager.
    Corrie: “She laughed out loud, and indeed, what else could she do?”
    Benji: “Benji carried on scowling.//What else was there to do but scowl?”

    10. Both stories allude to the idea that there is no one of their station to marry.
    Benji challenges his mother on the marriage issue: Well, who am I supposed to marry?”
    Corrie’s father, in the story’s first sentence, says, “Nobody on the same level.”

    11. Both stories introduce the guest about half way down the first column.

    12. Both stories wait to reveal whose point of view is being used to tell the story. There is an element of surprise when we realize it is the guest whose head we will inhabit. Both use the same narrative point of view – the limited third person. In both cases, it is the guest whose thoughts we hear. At this point, we do not hear the thoughts of the others in either story.

    Narrator (Corrie) : “…what else could she do? The guest thought.”
    Narrator: (Benji): “”What else was there to do but scowl? Alare thought.”

    13. In both stories, the reader wonders whether the reason they have not married is only because there is no one rich enough. For one thing, one wonders, rich enough for whom? The reader is already beginning to wonder if this parent-child battle is just one more in a long string.

    14. Both stories reveal at this point that the guest is married and has children
    Benji’s guest, Alare, has married “fairly late” and “she had all the trappings of a family.
    Corrie’s guest, Howard, was “already equipped with a wife and young family”.

    15. There is no indication at this point that either Corrie or Benji know the guest’s marital status.

    16. Both guests rate the relative attractiveness of their hosts’ child.
    Howard says of Corrie: “Not much meat on the bone.”
    Alare says of Benji: “…the kind [of light brown skin] that under bright light had a tendency to glow a little yellow, like an onye ocha’s— a white man’s.”

    17. Both guests reflect on the thinking capacities of their hosts’ child.
    Howard expects Corrie “to have a conventional mind.”
    Alare says Benji is “the kind of man who spent hours mulling over nothing.”

    18. Both stories give us a paragraph of background about the guest.
    Howard is an architect who has been hired by Corrie’s father to repair the Anglicans’ steeple.
    Alare is a wife who has married a man quite younger than herself and is beginning to feel it.

    19. Both stories allude to the interest of each parent in appearances.
    Corrie’s father is upset because the Anglicans are letting the tower on their church fall down.
    Benji’s mother has mahogany furniture, and wears a “yellow-gold scarf, tied in the shape of a flower blossom”.

    20. Both stories allude to the parents’ attraction to tall, towering things:
    Corrie’s father is concerned with a tower.
    Benji’s mother has an “elaborately decorated head” in the shape of a flower.

    21. Both authors assign a predilection for prejudice to both parents.
    Corrie’s father is described as having told Howard revealed his prejudices regarding the “poor class of Irish Protestants” who frequented the Anglican church.
    Benji’s mother says “People will suspect” if her son doesn’t marry. She appears to want to avoid being associated with a son who might be a weakling or worse.

    This list represents 21 similarities between the two stories before we have even finished one third of the first page. These similarities are in setting, characterization, narrative point of view, tone, and plot action. There is also one point where the words “what else” are used to introduce essentially the same idea.

    In addition, both stories imply that possibly each parent in each story is seducing the guest with promises of money – that whoever takes this child off their hands will have money. This is strange, but money is the topic in this first column.

    The question is not whether this story is based on Munro’s. The question is the extent of the similarity in the first column of “Benji” to the first column of “Corrie”..

  164. Betsy November 17, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    This is the same as the post above, but with the typos corrected. My apologies.

    The following list addresses 21 similarities in the first column of the story. “Corrie” has about 15 columns and “Benji” has about 19. Thus the following comparison is from a very small percentage of the story.

    1. Both stories open at the dinner table, and each story has an elderly parent entertaining a guest. Both stories have an adult child of the parent at the table, too.

    2. Both parents speak to the guest in the opening paragraph about money.
    Corrie’s father opens with: “It isn’t a good thing to have the money concentrated all in one family, the way you do in a place like this.”
    Benji’s mother says Benji has been “bequeathed such an expansive estate.”
    There is virtually no difference in the opening. Both parents are beyond the pale – no one in their right mind talks about family money to a dinner guest.

    3. Both parents insult their children by speaking as if they aren’t there. Both parents show no tenderness toward their child.
    Corrie’s father says, “I mean, for a girl like my daughter Corrie here. For example, I mean, like her.”
    Benji’s mother says: If her son doesn’t marry, “People will begin to suspect.”

    4. Both stories tell us where Corrie and Benji are each looking during the parental tirade.
    Corrie is quite direct, “looking their guest in the eye.”
    Benji is not direct. He is “staring at a point” above his mother’s head.

    5. Both children resist their parent’s insulting behavior, but in different ways:
    Corrie laughs at her father. Benji doesn’t laugh – he scowls.

    6. Both parents tell the guest how old their child is, but both parents get the number wrong.
    Corrie’s father is off by a year.
    Benji’s mother is off by two years.
    Both parents thus indicate a carelessness about their own child, not knowing the age. Parents almost always try to keep the ages of their adult children straight.

    7. Both Corrie and Benji correct their parents.
    Corrie corrects her father and gives him the correct age – “twenty-six”.
    Benji corrects his mother and gives her the correct age – “Forty-two.”

    8. Both parents attempt to save face.
    Corrie’s father says, “Go ahead…Laugh all you like.”
    Benji’s mother says, ”I don’t see the reason for the scowl.”

    9. Both Corrie and Benji resist their parents, somewhat in the manner of a teenager.
    Corrie: “She laughed out loud, and indeed, what else could she do?”
    Benji: “Benji carried on scowling. // What else was there to do but scowl?”

    10. Both stories allude to the idea that there is no one of their station to marry.
    Benji challenges his mother on the marriage issue: “Well, who am I supposed to marry?”
    Corrie’s father, in the story’s first sentence, says, “Nobody on the same level.”

    11. Both stories introduce the guest about half way down the first column.

    12. Both stories wait to reveal whose point of view is being used to tell the story. There is an element of surprise when we realize it is the guest from whose point of view the story will be told. . Both use the same narrative point of view – the limited third person. In both cases, it is the guest whose thoughts we hear. At this point, we do not hear the thoughts of the others in either story.

    Narrator (Corrie) : “…what else could she do? The guest thought.”
    Narrator: (Benji): “”What else was there to do but scowl? Alare thought.”

    13. In both stories, the reader wonders whether the reason they have not married is only because there is no one rich enough. For one thing, one wonders, rich enough for whom? The reader is already beginning to wonder if this parent-child battle is just one more in a long string of battles.

    14. Both stories reveal at this point that the guest is married and that each has children.
    Benji’s guest, Alare, has married “fairly late” and “she had all the trappings of a family.”
    Corrie’s guest, Howard, was “already equipped with a wife and young family”.

    15. There is no indication at this point that either Corrie or Benji know the guest’s marital status.

    16. Both guests rate the relative attractiveness of their hosts’ child.
    Howard says of Corrie: “Not much meat on the bone.”
    Alare says of Benji: “…the kind [of light brown skin] that under bright light had a tendency to glow a little yellow, like an onye ocha’s— a white man’s.”

    17. Both guests reflect on the thinking capacities of their hosts’ child.
    Howard expects Corrie “to have a conventional mind.”
    Alare says Benji is “the kind of man who spent hours mulling over nothing.”

    18. Both stories give us a paragraph of background about the guest.
    Howard is an architect who has been hired by Corrie’s father to repair the Anglicans’ steeple.
    Alare is a wife who has married a man quite younger than herself and is beginning to feel her age.

    19. Both stories allude to the interest of each parent in appearances.
    Corrie’s father is upset because the Anglicans are letting the tower on their church fall down.
    Benji’s mother has mahogany furniture, and wears a “yellow-gold scarf, tied in the shape of a flower blossom”.

    20. Both stories allude to the parents’ attraction to tall, towering things:
    Corrie’s father is concerned with a tower.
    Benji’s mother has an “elaborately decorated head” in the shape of a flower.

    21. Both authors assign a predilection for prejudice to both parents.
    Corrie’s father is described as having revealed his prejudices to Howard regarding the “poor class of Irish Protestants” who frequented the Anglican church.
    Benji’s mother says “People will suspect” if her son doesn’t marry. She appears to want to avoid being associated with a son who might be a weakling or worse.

    This list represents 21 similarities between the two stories before we have even finished one third of the first page. These similarities are in setting, characterization, narrative point of view, tone, and plot action. There is also one point where the words “what else” are used to introduce essentially the same idea.

    In addition, both stories imply that possibly each parent in each story is seducing the guest with promises of money – that whoever takes this child off their hands will have money. This is strange, but money is the topic in this first column.

    The question is not whether this story is based on Munro’s. The question is to what extent do the similarities occur? At this point, I am only speaking about the first column.

  165. Mark November 17, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    That is some fantastic analysis – thanks for all the hard work and for helping show some skeptical commenters that this story has, in fact, been stolen, overpainted, and sold as an original, all of her late justifications notwithstanding. TNY is going to soon have to address this matter.

  166. Mike November 18, 2013 at 7:54 am

    That’s amazing, Betsy. And this is completely insane. I must draw the same conclusion as Ethan: whoever was in charge at The New Yorker did not know about this, did not even suspect that it was modeled on “Corrie”. Looking at this list – and it’s only a short story, not a novel – you can’t even say that Okparanta acted as a writer when she created “Benji”.

  167. Archer November 18, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Again, I bow to Betsy and Ethan for their sterling detective work. I know the story has its defenders, but this is just staggering to me. At this point, even if there had been acknowledgement of “Corrie” in the original Q&A, it would be unacceptable. The fact that there wasn’t (regardless of the update) is mind-blowing.

    That said, I suspect we will not be hearing more from TNY in the way of explanation. Don’t forget, it took two days for the magazine to respond to requests for comment. I assume they took that time to read both stories carefully, speak with the author, perhaps consult with legal counsel and decide on a line of defense. They are standing behind the story. (Notice how the updated question is phrased to imply they were aware of the “Corrie” connection.) That’s their line, and I presume they are sticking with it. To do otherwise at this stage would be disastrous for all involved.

    Like others, I am tired and disappointed. There doesn’t seem to be much more to say. Doubtless the magazine editors find us a nuisance (if they are even reading these comments, who knows), but the people here are the ones who read every fiction piece with enough care and attention to have discovered this in the first place. If they are not answerable to their most devoted readers, to whom are they answerable?

    BTW, I’m not having trouble loading the blog, but it has happened a few times that when I click “Post Comment” after writing something, it says the request has timed out. Perhaps a caution about long-windedness? ;)

  168. Parker November 18, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Betsy’s list is imposing, though I think it weakens after no. 17, when it becomes almost humorous. Can anyone read No. 20, where a telling parallel is found between a church tower a headdress, without a chuckle?

    I think this weakening in Betsy’s list indicates a divergence in the stories that continues right to the endings, where Corrie’s moment of truth about the deception occurs in her bed and Benji’s at Alare’s place, where he sees her dancing with her groundskeeper husband, Godwin.

    I’d be surprised if an equal list of similarities between the two stories can be fond at the stories’ ends — though after their respective revelations Corrie does prepare coffee and Benji has buttered toast and fried eggs.


  169. Parker November 18, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Sorry. First paragraph above should read: .. No. 20 . where a telling parallel is found between a church tower and a headdress….

  170. Artsy November 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Mark, I am expressing my condolences because you are obviously twisting the interview to further your witch hunt, and that’s just tragic. OCD is a real issue, and it’s downright cheap and inappropriate to even have it figure in this discussion in any shape or form. And, with all due respect, I didn’t expect that I (if the warning was applied to me) or anyone would be called out for “belittling” another when a part of this conversation has been about belittling Okparanta, the writer/person. That doesn’t sound fair to me. Now, it’s good to see the list of similarities; it confirms what I initially thought, i.e. it shouldn’t take a genius to find the connections between two stories, the level of intertextuality is high and in your face – you found the connections because you were meant to find them. What is fascinating to me is that even with this level of intertextuality, some people still missed the connection, and it is precisely this fact that speaks to the success of Benji as a piece that stands on it’s own no matter how much it borrows from Corrie. Okparanta is not without talent, and writes well, and I have no doubt she could have written Benji without Corrie if she chose to (and there is nothing amazing about the plot by the way) but she obviously wanted to do something interesting. She did. I am definitely going to try it because I’m not convinced it’s a bad thing to do, but I will obviously need to remember to mention the mother story.

  171. avataram November 18, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Internet discussions of plagiarism have always been intense. It is not a victimless crime, but it is not Grand Larceny either (The New Yorker pays an average of $7500 a short story). The way it has been done here, it is not a felony, and may not even be a misdemeanor.

    So far, Okparanta is doing rather well. So far, she seems to have escaped the worst, kept her day job, and apart from a few blogs and some on twitter, no one has complained. But she may find that older stories are scrutinized, book deals vanish, named fellowships are no longer offered, and Universities suddenly seem cagey about offering visiting professorships. I hope the $7500 was worth all this trouble.

  172. Roger November 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Two of the recent comments, both skeptical of the plagiarism accusation, seem to disagree with one another. One commenter believes the similarities between the stories are so close and so numerous that they serve as proof that “Benji” is not a work of plagiarism; rather, Betsy’s list demonstrates Okparanta’s capacity for being “interesting.”

    The other commenter minimizes the significance of the list by saying it “weakens” after its first seventeen (!) examples and that the stories “diverge” after those seventeen.

    I’d be interested in a discussion between these two commenters. Is Benji an ingenious replica, or a head-fake where the similarities are pronounced only at the stories’ openings?

    Also, I’d be interested in hearing how the “diverge” argument stands up against the similarities pointed out elsewhere on this thread. E.g., the condom scene and the paramour’s joke about murdering the lover’s spouse, both of which occur after the alleged divergence.

  173. Steven November 18, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Wow! This brouhaha is just much ado about nothing. I just went through the comments and you guys seem to be stalking the author, writing letters to publishers, and all. “Benji” was clearly a homage to “Corrie” same way Englander’s “Anne Frank” was a homage to “Talk About Love.” If the author had redone a popular story like say,”The Bear Came Over the Mountain” will ethan and avataram still be making all this fuss. I don’t see any reason why a graduate of Iowa Writer’s Workshop will clumsily plagiarise a story in this format. It was a homage that’s why it was titled the name of the protagonist just like Munro’s story. I could pick out several similarities from Carver’s story and Englander’s: the author doesn’t have to blow a trumpet to announce that she was paying homage to “Corrie.”

  174. Trevor November 18, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    A quick question for both sides of the argument (and I hope this will help us communicate a bit better to each other rather than past each other):

    What is the difference — and I think there is one — between an homage and a knock-off?

  175. Steven November 18, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    So was she trying to evade getting caught for plagiarism with the clear cut hints? You know Englander’s story had the same prose style and plot as Carver’s, right?

  176. Archer November 18, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Well, according to the trusty Oxford Dictionary, an “homage” is “a special honor or respect shown publicly”.

    I don’t know how others would define the world “public”, but if only one person (Ethan) immediately recognized the Alice Munro connection, and TNY editors didn’t see fit to acknowledge it in the original author Q&A, I think I would have to make the bold and radical assertion that perhaps this “homage” was not “public” enough.

  177. Steven November 18, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    This is weird: ethanbaobarker opened up a blog specially for this issue; avataram knows the whereabouts of the author including her tour dates, fellowships, book deals and all. Everything about this issue online began from this blog. The interviewer had never read “Corrie” and of course didn’t ask any questions about it. The author answered every question she was asked in the interview (I don’t see why she should have mentioned “Corrie”); and the updated interview implies that she had mentioned Alice Munro in the past.

  178. Paul Epstein November 18, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    I’ve commented a lot on this. My position hasn’t changed much, but I don’t see myself as a particular “defender” of the piece even though I’ve been cast that way, and in fact I think I described myself that way.

    That’s not correct. I do think some criticisms are valid. My thinking is that there are many reasons why a piece of writing may be criticized. For example, a story might be unconvincing, or not interesting etc. etc. etc. Here, the main criticism is “unoriginal — even largely copied.”

    To me, that’s just one of many reasons a reader might dislike a story. Just as we would never have a trial and investigation if an author wrote a boring story, I don’t like the idea of a trial and investigation for an unoriginal story.

    Furthermore, I can prove clear instances of where those attacking the author have made clear errors in overstating their case. For example, it is strongly implied that no writer would defend what Okparanta has done. Well, that’s clearly wrong because NoViolet Bulawayo called the story “a fine experiment”. So then it is suggested that maybe Bulawayo didn’t read Corrie and therefore didn’t know what she was talking about. This seems like a very weak suggestion to me.

    Those who are attacking the author are sometimes clearly wrong and sometimes clearly right. They are clearly right to point out the list of similarities, clearly right that the New Yorker didn’t realise the similarities, and clearly right that this incident is unusual.

    They are clearly wrong to engage in wild guesswork when others see things otherwise or have not made their thoughts clear. I have made remarks defensive of the author so I must have been sent to water down the discussion. Bulawayo defends the story but her view is simply swept aside without acknowledging it or investigating further. Munro hasn’t spoken on it, so she must strongly agree with the plagiarism assertions.

    Paul Epstein

  179. Trevor November 18, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    I don’t see why she should have mentioned “Corrie”

    It’s certainly typical when one is paying homage, Steven. Here is the first line from the Q&A with Nathan Englander when he published “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank”:

    This week’s story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” obviously draws on Raymond Carver’s story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

    And here is the first line when Lorrie Moore published “Referential”:

    Your story in this week’s issue, “Referential,” is a kind of tribute to Vladimir Nabokov’s story “Signs and Symbols,” which also involves a visit to a schizophrenic son in a psychiatric hospital (and was published in The New Yorker in 1948). What are the other elements the two stories share?

    I’m not necessarily saying such an explicit indication is required, but it goes a long way clarifying one’s intentions.

    But I still wonder, how much does the author’s intentions matter? Sure, had there been a clear indication going into this story, then a lot of this conversation would never have occurred, but does that automatically make this “homage” acceptable?

    Maybe, I guess, but this goes back to my question about the difference between homage and rip-off. Surely it’s the content and not the author’s intentions that matter, right? So, where is that line?

  180. Trevor November 18, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Paul, I for one have really appreciated your measured tone in your comments. A good lesson for us all, whatever our argument.

    All — I do apologize for the website issues. I myself have been having some trouble accessing the page. One minute it works, then it doesn’t, then it works again. This is probably a hosting issue, and those usually get worked out over the course of a few days. I wish they’d stay worked out forever.

    I may recommend that if you’re typing a longer comment, select the text and copy it before submitting. Then if you suffer the “time out” problem, you can just refresh the page, paste your long comment, and then it should work fine.

  181. Steven November 18, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    The interviewer mentioned “Signs and Symbols” and “Talk About Love” in both cases. These questions are sent by e-mail, I guess. I still believe that the interviewer had never read “Corrie.” If this was one of Munro’s popular stories, it definitely would have been mentioned.

  182. Trevor November 18, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    I think that the interviewer’s apparent ignorance is a problem in and of itself, Steven. Further, this wasn’t just an “interviewer”; Willing Davidson is an associate fiction editor at The New Yorker, and from the looks of it the primary editor of this story.

    Then again, maybe Mr. Davidson wasn’t ignorant at all but felt this was homage and not rip off. I still hope someone ventures into explaining what I think is a key distinction in this argument. I myself have been unsuccessful.

  183. Steven November 18, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    I read both stories carefully. Yes! there are a lot of similarities but if you read Englander’s story, you’ll notice that some sentences are very identical to the ones in the Carver piece. If it is acceptable for Englander to do such, why can’t Okpranta do the same? The only issue here is that “Corrie” is not the most popular Munro story and it came out three years ago. I’m not a writer but I trust the proffesionality of the author, she doesn’t seem like the type to plagiarize. Infact, she wasn’t trying to camoflage anything. Also, the updated interview implied that she had mentioned “Corrie” in the past. “You’ve mentioned that ‘Benji’ was modeled on ‘Corrie’?” sounds like the author mentioned the story even before the question was asked.

  184. Roger November 18, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    avataram, that is interesting about the $7500 (I’m glad it’s not more) and the potential consequences for Okparanta. I bet Okparanta could avoid risking those outcomes if she were to apologize unconditionally and donate her fee to an appropriate charity, such as one that promotes ethics in the arts. TNY could make a similar apology and donate a multiple of Okparanta’s fee ($75K sounds about right) to that same charity.

    I won’t hold my breath waiting for this to happen, but I think it would work wonders in repairing the damage and stopping the entirely justified criticism being leveled against both the writer and the magazine.

  185. Trevor November 18, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    I want to step away from whatever The New Yorker interview did right or wrong. There are issues there, but I think we’ve covered them. We don’t know what Davidson knew — either he knew it was based on “Corrie” because Okparanta mentioned it or he didn’t and thus didn’t bring it up in his interview. I don’t know. I want to step away from the interview, though, because I don’t think it’s relevant to what I’m trying to dig at.

    The difference between the Englander and Okparanta pieces is, though. I didn’t like the story, but I’d at least say that Englander’s is an homage. I don’t think Okparanta’s is (whatever her intent, whatever the interview says).

    The disturbing thing for me, though, is that I don’t know exactly why I feel this way. I don’t think it’s merely because Carver’s story is more famous than Munro’s, though I actually think that plays a part.

    We’ve touched on what I think underlies this for me: Englander’s story adds a new element to the Carver story, using the Carver story’s notoriety, and thus a reader’s expectations, to further his own themes. Okaparanta’s, to me, does nothing of the sort. For me, it doesn’t use Munro’s story to get at anything new. It doesn’t surprise us by playing with our expectations. It doesn’t play with the pieces it uses at all — it simply uses them to get a story on paper.

    I’m still trying to figure this out.

  186. Steven November 18, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Also, “Corrie,” is popular, was a jury’s favorite–PEN O’ Henry Prize. Maybe this story had been in the pile and TNY decided to publish it because Alice Munro recently won the Nobel.

  187. Roger November 18, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Also, it should be underscored that whether one views “Benji” as plagiarism or not, a well-grounded accusation of plagiarism is not the same as an accusation of writing a boring story. Plagiarism is unethical; writing a boring story is not.

    Similarly, the phrase “witch hunt” has been misused against those who are alarmed by what Okparanta has done. A “witch hunt” is understood as the pursuit of someone on pretextual grounds – after all, witches aren’t real. Plagiarism is.

  188. avataram November 18, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Agree with Paul that some criticisms are valid, but some others may just be guesswork.

    For me it is an issue of timeline, as I mentioned earlier. Munro times the first conversation by talking about Tommy Douglas, Saskatchewan premier from 1944-1961. So the initial conversation happened sometime in this period. In “Corrie” there is no indication how long the blackmail went on for – there is some reference to Sadie’s typing lessons at the start and her education just after the blackmail began (in her early 20s?) and when she died she was 46. So, let us say the blackmail went on for 15-20 years, maybe even more. Even if it started in 1961 and went on for 20 years, we are in 1981.

    In Okparanta, the politician referred to is Umaru Yar’Adua, President of Nigeria from 2007-2010. He was sick from the start, but became very sick in 2009 and handed over to his Vice President – Goodluck Jonathan. Even if we assume it started in 2007, and we are in 2013 – the blackmail could have gone on for atmost 6-7 years (until 2013). If he was very sick, then the blackmail may have started only in 2009 or later. A few thousand Naira every now and then ($1=159 Naira) is not enough to buy a couple of cars, fix the house and for the gardener to quit in 6-7 years.

    What kind of author, paying homage or otherwise, not think of her timeline first? Maybe she was copying, maybe she is poor at multiplying two numbers – only she knows.

    This is my equivalent of Paul’s “Lotto” issue, but this time, the problem is in Benji.

  189. Archer November 18, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    But Steven, do you not think perhaps there is a distinction in doing this with a well-known story and one that isn’t? That, in the latter case, it’s even more important to cite the source upfront, in the interest of full disclosure?

    Another question is whether or not Okparanta received permission from Munro to “remake” the story. (I assume not, otherwise that probably would have been mentioned by now.) In all these other cases we’ve discussed, the author is dead. But Munro is living. If somebody wants to adapt one of her stories into film, he or she needs to be granted the rights (and pay for them!). The question, for me, is whether it’s acceptable to appropriate a living author’s recent story without feeling any responsibility to acknowledge having done so.

  190. Steven November 18, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    She didn’t have to get any special permission. I remember writing a poem in my creative writing class, and I asked my Prof., beforehand, if I could borrow a concept from a popular poem without plagiarising and he gave me the go-ahead. My Prof. is a proffesional writer with an MFA in poetry. Why should I doubt him? You guys should leave this author alone. Some of the comments were sure getting personal.

  191. Steven November 18, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    Also, Lorrie Moore’s statements about her tribute to Nabakov makes some of the similarities you all pointed out invalid.

    Lorrie Moore:There are the jams, the photographs, the playing cards, the desire of the child to leave the world, the phone ringing at the end, the sleep problems of the man. There is also the referential mania of the child, which is contagious to the mother and which the story then embraces as well. The Nabokov story is a perfect one, and my hovering over it is intended as an homage and is not meant to be in any way disguised or dishonoring.

  192. Trevor November 18, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Steven, what poem did you use? What concept did you borrow (and no one here is against borrowing concepts)? Did you publish your poem or simply submit it as an exercise? These are all important details as they relate to “Benji,” and my guess is that your answers to those questions don’t line up with this situation we’re discussing here.

  193. Trevor November 18, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Also, Lorrie Moore’s statements about her tribute to Nabakov makes some of the similarities you all pointed out invalid.


  194. Steven November 18, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Also, out of curiousity I googled “Lorrie Moore Referential plagiarism” and came across an issue similar to this on a blog:

  195. Steven November 18, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    The poem was Langston Hughes “Harlem.” It was basically in the same format: questions, same rhyme pattern, but my poem was about religion while the original was about Civil Rights, i guess. No it wasn’t published, just class work.

  196. Steven November 18, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    Also note how Nabokov’s story was published in the New Yorker, too. I don’t think Okparanta did anything unproffesional.

  197. Trevor November 18, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    I googled “Lorrie Moore Referential plagiarism” and came across an issue similar to this

    It came up here, too, and I gave it a defense.

    It’s obvious this kind of thing goes on all the time. I really hope we can start to distinguish between what is and what is not appropriate.

  198. Steven November 18, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    Ok. Its quite clear there is no plagiarism here. The misconception came from the interview which didn’t mention “Corrie” at first. I don’t think it was a big deal, either, because readers who buy TNY in print don’t get to read “This week in Fiction.”

  199. Trevor November 18, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Ok. Its quite clear there is no plagiarism here.

    Surely nothing I’ve said has led you to this conclusion, right?

  200. avataram November 18, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    I imagined a situation where Okparanta could be a victim of an editorial carelessness:

    Okparanta writes a story – one about a poor couple making up a illness plot to get money from a rich, unmarried man, set in Nigeria. TNY likes it, but it is not very New Yorker like, so they force her to make endless edits. She is tired of it, until a fiction editor or intern suggests Munro’s “Corrie” as a guide to improve her story. Okparanta, eager to get her first story in TNY, takes the advice and makes Benji too close a copy of it. This time, the version is acceptable to TNY and they publish it. Okparanta feels her original story was good enough, so she doesnt refer to Corrie & TNY feels happy with the final edits.

    Then the comments, emails and blogs start, and Okparanta appeals to TNY saying that you could have published my original story, bad as it was – it was your suggestion to improve it using Corrie. TNY is horrified, and more worried about covering its back than the authors, so a week later, they publish the extra question in Q&A.

    In deflecting the “Corrie” connection to “Several readers”, TNY may have pushed all the responsibility onto Okparanta, while TNY’s editors/interns maybe wholly or partly to blame for the fiasco.

  201. Trevor November 18, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    avataram, I appreciate that you’re showing an alternative scenario here, but I’m not sure we need to speculate here any more.

    Now that we’ve reached 200 comments, I’d like to limit comments to those analyzing the story, so please everyone avoid speculating what did or didn’t happen and if you drop in a conclusion please explain how you got there.

    I keep assuming this thread will die down, and maybe I just killed it, though I would genuinely like to discuss what is and is not homage/plagiarism and what is and is not appropriate, if not legally then ethically.

  202. Steven November 18, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    No, I made my conclusions myself. Its your opinion if you think it is.

  203. ethan November 19, 2013 at 3:05 am

    I think my last point is relevant to your question, Trevor, and I think it may have been overlooked due to its length and Besty’s superb post which followed it. Allow me to restate.

    —In order to pay homage, one must be paying homage to something. It must be absolutely clear, without any doubt, what that thing (or person) is. The fact that The New Yorker did not realize “Benji” was in homage to “Corrie” tells us, no matter what we think, that Okparanta did not do enough to inform her audience that the story was referencing another story. There is absolutely 0% chance that the New Yorker knew it was referencing another story but decided not to mention it in the interview. Also, if she thought it was an acceptable way to pay homage to “corrie,” she would have been forthright about what she was doing. But, as stated, she was not forthright. She passed the story off as her own.—

    Additionally, I think it EXTREMELY unlikely that they would publish a piece referencing a piece they published 3 years ago. Munro already had a piece republished. They would not continue to publish more fiction by her/about her in such a short time, even though she won the nobel prize.

    Admittedly, I have not read the other 2 stories being discussed here, but I have to imagine they explore their own themes to a significant degree, while Okparanta did not. There is a lot of analysis here about the similarities, but not much about the differences or the virtues of “Benji” that are absent in “Corrie.” This is telling when deciding between “plagiarism” and “homage.” Also, the popularity of the story IS significant, because if I write a story about a character named Bilbo Baggins, it is clear who I am referencing, just like a character named Samsa, who turns from an insect to a human, is a clear reference to Kafka’s Metamorphosis. But if I write a story about a nameless first person narrator whose dead parents are flying around his house (?!), and who dies and saves himself, you MAY not know what story I’m talking about. But some of you might… it was a very popular story. What’s more, famous, old stories, deserve to be reconsidered by the popular eye. Just like a Shakespeare play may be retold in the present time to appeal to more viewers.

    Writers referencing less famous stories very often write, “After (author name/title of story/poem)” in italics before the beginning of the story. Even if the poems/stories referenced/being published are so obscure that nobody would notice. This is what it looks like to be forthright about homage, even without reading the story/poem.

    In response to -Steven,- asking your teacher if you can discuss similar themes in a poem without plagiarizing is itself acknowledging the original, and thus proves what you are writing is not plagiarism because you have given credit to the original. Also, Trevor made some good points about the differences in your situation and Okparanta’s situation. Your poem was a class assignment, while Okparanta’s story is launching her carrier forward on the work of another, uncredited writer. If you and others are confused, it is of the utmost importance that the new yorker be forthright about what happened and the wrongness of it, or people like you (and I am saying this sincerely, not maliciously) will not learn. If people do not think it is wrong and repeat what Okparanta has done, not only will the art form fall, these people will be punished. Honestly, do not do what Okparanta has done. You are likely to be caught and punished. I think that I have made it clear that if I were the editor of the magazine, or if it were Roger or Michael or Avataram or whoever else were the editor, you would be punished.

    But, like I said, I think my previous argument is pretty difficult to refute, and I would ask that anyone who disagrees with me respond directly to that argument. If Okparanta thought her “homage” was acceptable, she would have been forthright about it. Because she was not forthright, we know that she herself did not think it was acceptable. We know she was not forthright because too many people, including the new yorker, discussed the story without knowing that it was paying homage to anything/any one, much less who or what that thing was. Passing on another’s work as your own is plagiarism.

    Also, the story I mentioned was CommComm, by George Saunders, published in TNY. I give it a 10/10, you should all read it. Its also free.

  204. Betsy November 19, 2013 at 10:12 am

    This post addresses the way Okparanta adapts the rest of her first section to Munro’s.
    1. There are several differences: this section in “Benji” is much longer; time is devoted to describing Mrs. Anyaogu’s style and display versus Mr. Carlton’s lack of style and Yankee lack of display; additional time is spent introducing the contretemps at Mrs. Anyogu’s church, when the pastor is found out to be stealing money. Although this church money angle matches the long-con theme of both stories, it goes nowhere and feels odd, as if it is from another story entirely, and maybe should have been. “Benji” introduces another idea that also goes nowhere: while Mr. Carlton, who is a Methodist, thinks the Anglicans are bringing the town down, while Mrs. Anyaogu easily switches from her sect to another.
    2. Both stories elaborate about the background of the con artist (who, of course, in both stories is only revealed, in waves, about being a deceiver).

    Munro encapsulates a world of foreshadowing in one short paragraph when she has Howard (in “Corrie”) make a peculiar double entendre when Corrie asks him if he supports Tommy Douglas. “He said that his wife supported him. Actually, he wife didn’t think Douglas was far left enough, but he wasn’t going to get into that.” When you re-read the story, you see that Howard’s unconscious has spoken the truth – his wife supports Howard, or his wife’s extra money makes it possible for them to have a better life. There is an imbalance in Howard from the start, not to mention that his job restoring a steeple, which could probably have been done by contractor, is not exactly Frank Lloyd Wright territory.

    Alare, “Benji’s” con, also is living with an imbalance: she is older than her husband. Being in her fifties, and having a much younger husband, represents a possible come-uppance for Alare in bed.

    Howard and Alare both have the upper hand in their marriages, though: Howard is the man and his wife doesn’t have that much money; Alare “had no reason to believe that [her husband] had ever gone against her wishes. // She was the one who had finally gone against them.” Not to dwell on an editing problem, but that “them” is confusing, a la Ashbery, and jarring rather than effective. Anyway, both Howard and ALare have the upper hand in their marriages, or, both have to wiggle to maintain the upper hand.

    3. Both Corrie and Benji ask their guest what they think of their respective country’s president: Tommy Douglas, the premier of Canada, and Yar’Adua, the President of Nigeria. Munro uses this to pivot onto Howard’s wife “supporting” him. Munro drops it at that, although the issues of money and class are reinforced, Howard’s wife being a wealthy liberal.

    Left-Right and far left in Canada are mirrored with tribal politics in Nigeria. The tribe in power is the Hausa-Fulani, Alare’s husband belongs to the Igbo tribe but supports the president, and Alare is a Yoruba. Nigerians would also pick up on the religious differences among these tribes, the Igbo being heavily Christian, while the Yoruba are divided between Christian and Muslim. The Hausa are often Muslim. But all these tribes also retain influences of the original tribal religion. Again, this is an introduced theme, one which is a source of enormous conflict (and rich diversity) in Nigeria, but which is kind of a dead-end in this story.

    Both Howard and Alare reply to the political question by saying what their spouse thinks.

    Both stories elaborate slightly on the issue of the president.
    Corrie uses it to make a joke – that her father is a “communist” which makes her father “snort”.
    Alare remarks upon her husband’s shallow political views – “always a fan of the aristos.”

    Both stories thus use politics as a means to suggests divided loyalties in their characters, although in Corrie, for the one, and Alare, for the other. The difference between the stories is that Munro uses the slight elaboration to underscore the conflict between father and daughter, and Okparanta to underscore the way Alare condescends to her husband. This is a difference between the stories, but a difference of no particular weight or ultimate significance.

    4. Both stories address what Alare and Howard think of the furnishings and style of the host.
    Howard thinks the Carlton “dining room is hideous” He notes that “everything looked as if it had been in place before the turn of the century.”
    Alare thinks that the splendiferous Anyaogu living room is “tacky”, but unlike Howard, she goes on at length about just how tacky it is.

    5. Both stories have the guest judge the food that is served.
    Howard thinks the Carlton food is “barely all right.”
    Alare thinks the Anyaogu food is “delicious”.
    There is a difference here: Howard feels no discomfort about his table manners, while Alare feels put off about the fork, and would rather eat in the customary fashion, with her “hands”.

    6. Both stories indicate that the hosts have money in the landscape.
    Howard notices the Carlton “wide lawns” and view of the river.
    Alare notices at length that the Anyaogu gardens look like “Versailles”.

    Thus, both stories have the con-artist not only judge their mark, they also use real estate to size up the monetary value in the mark. Only Alare goes on at length, which is of no weight in the significance of the story. She simply goes on at length.

    7. Both Benji and Corrie manage to get the guest in private; both take their guest outside. Both stories clearly suggest that the “mark” may have a con of their own they wish to run – i.e., they may sense the supplicant in Howard and Alare; they may sense the hunger in the way they look over the place; they may sense the deference with which these two both address the tyrannical parent. That is, both Corrie and Benji may sense in the guest someone with whom they might finally get the upper hand, given their deferential posture.
    8. Both Benji and Corrie suggest that they should watch the sunset. In this way they both test out whether or not this is someone they can direct, whether this is someone who will defer.
    In this section, Alare goes on at length to compare her husband to Benji, making clear she thinks Benji a poor specimen. Howard doesn’t bother to compare Corrie to his wife, typical of Munro’s hallmark – her concision.
    9. Both Benji and Corrie get their mark’s attention by announcing they will be traveling, Corrie to Egypt and Benji to Dubai.
    10. Both Howard and Alare have a moment of decision … they both realize that someone may get to their prey before they do.
    Howard thinks: “Some creepy fortune hunter was bound to snap her up…”
    Alare thinks: “…some gold-digging young woman would eventually agree to marry him.”
    11. Both Corrie and Benji refer to an overblown parental reaction to their child’s infirmity.
    Corrie: “Once he fired not just a kid who teased me but his entire family. I mean, even cousins.”
    Benji: When his mother overheard a taunt against Benji in a restaurant, “…she began screaming, crying, pulling out her hair. She wound up on the floor, in a corner of the restaurant, her hair sticking up at odd angles from her head, her clothes disheveled.”

    Notice though, how economical Munro is.

    This ends section one of both stories. There is no significant development of any new themes. The details of the Nigerian version are interesting, but not significant in a thematic way. Both stories develop the idea that Benji and Corrie are setting their sights on someone they can control. Both stories develop the idea that for Alare and Howard, it is time to stop sizing up their mark – time may be of the essence if they are going to be able to complete the con.

  205. Betsy November 19, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    A reader called to my attention a mistake I have made: I siad she was olde than her husband; she is in fact 10 years younger.

    See the quote from “Benji”, column 1:
    “Alare herself had got married fairly late – in her early thirties, to a man who was around the same age that Benji was now.”

    My thanks to the careful reader who caught my mistake.

  206. Betsy November 19, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    My apologies: “said” and “older are misspelled above.

  207. Archer November 19, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    To go back to the question of rip-off vs. homage, I thought about one of my favorite films, TOKYO STORY (1953), directed by Yasujiro Ozu. Its basic premise (of an elderly couple visiting their grown children) was taken from a 1937 Leo McCarey film called MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW. Interestingly, though, Ozu never saw MAKE WAY (it is highly regarded today, but was not a success upon release). His screenwriting partner saw it years previous in Japan, and presumably decided to use the same plot. No credit is given to the 1937 film, and I presume no permission was requested or granted. Yet this appropriation is widely acknowledged, and nobody makes any fuss about it.

    As Trevor asked before, it’s interesting to ponder why some forms of appropriation are acceptable and others are not. For me, TOKYO STORY is so distinct in its style and form that it truly does become its own work of art; there are also considerable plot changes. But it can’t be denied that it was based on the McCarey film. What Okparanta has done is not that different than what Ozu did, and yet I still feel that her “borrowing” crosses an ethical line. Why is that? Maybe it’s because I think her story isn’t strong enough to justify the “theft”? Maybe it goes back to the old adage that “good artists borrow, great artists steal”? I don’t know. It’s certainly something to think about.

  208. Trevor November 19, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    I don’t have an answer to your excellent comment, Archer. I just wanted to remark on how timely your comment is. Today, the Criterion Collection released a wonderful bluray of Tokyo Story, and I had just finished perusing my copy when I got on here to read your comment.

    What a wonderful film.

  209. Trevor November 19, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    By the way, I’m currently on hold with my web host. I’m tired of the choppy service. I hope they can fix it easily. If they can’t, I’ll be shopping for a new host.

    In the meantime, I appreciate everyone’s patience.

  210. Betsy November 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Ethan alludes to an extremely important point: the differences between “Corrie” and “Benji”.

    I hope someone will do a careful analysis of the differences between the two stories. For one thing, that would demonstrate the importance of Okparanta’s goals.

    At the same time, I would observe that such a detailed comparison takes time and concentrated effort to be done accurately. Therefore, such writing takes a while to surface.

  211. Betsy November 21, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Section 2: the business with the postcard
    1. Both Corrie and Benji travel to the desert.
    Corrie goes to Egypt.
    Benji goes to Dubai.

    2. Both Corrie and Benji send Howard and Alare 2 postcards from abroad.
    The order of the postcards is reversed.

    3. Both Corrie and Benji send cards depicting vast empty spaces:

    Corrie’s second postcard “showed some flat dark-brown fields.”
    Benji’s first post card: “an image of what appeared to be an expanse of red sand, with two or three greenish twigs sticking out from it.”

    Both Corrie and Benji are hinting that their lives are unfulfilled.
    Only Corrie adds language to the empty scene – “Sea of Melancholia.”

    3. Both Corrie and Benji send a postcard of a big natural feature.

    Corrie sends a card of the Rock of Gibraltar.
    Benji sends Corrie a postcard of the sun.

    Both write of sea-change within themselves.
    Corrie’s message regarding Gibraltar is that it is “A pyramid in collapse”.
    Gibraltar stands for British power and thus stands in for her father; during her trip she feels his power over her failing.
    Benji’s message is not a riddle, but he says: “Plenty of sunshine, and too much solitude.” He would like company.

    Both Corrie and Benji indicate to the prospective lover that they are available.

    4. Only Howard replies by postcard, but this reply is similar in its purpose to a reply that Alare makes in person.

    Howard has been prompted by Corrie’s joke: “Magnifying glass obtainable send money.”
    Howard replies: “Magnifying glass faulty please refund money.”

    This interchange about a magnifying glass is enigmatic, but it indicates seeking,
    The interchange about money is not: Corrie is reminding Howard that she might be a source of money,
    Whether unconsciously or purposely is not clear. He straightens her out – it is she that will be giving money to him. But he does add the “please” – a note of supplication.

    Alare tells Benji later that her husband could have seen the post-card, except that she got to the mailbox first. She thus reminds him that there will be certain rules to their relationship.

    Both Howard and Alare discipline their mark, and possibly neither Corrie nor Benji would be able to continue into an intimate relationship without that hint of humiliation that they are used to from their parent.
    Section 3: Both relationships culminate in an affair.

    1. Both cons make their move.

    Howard drives out to Corrie’s place “for an unnecessary inspection of the church steeple”.
    Alare “approached Mrs. Anyaogu and invited herself to lunch.”

    2. Both parents fall ill.

    Mr. Carlton has a stroke.
    Mrs. Anyaogu has a heart attack.

    It is as if having got their wish with the reappearance of Howard and Alare, they cannot live with having been deposed. Their son or daughter will have proved normal, so to speak, but these pairs of parent and child have been like conjoined twins for decades; the division proves fatal in both.

    3. Both cons help out with the care of the house.

    Howard “took over when he came.”
    “Alare made herself useful”: she managed the house girls.

    4. Both cons interact with the elderly parent.

    Howard “was even taken to visit Corrie’s father, if the old man was able.
    Alare took care of “Mrs. Anyaogu’s sponge bath” and she also gave her “her medications”.

    Being cared for by the con is not healing in either case; both parents die.

    5. As if to put another nail in the coffin, both pairs appear to have sex in the house while the parents are still alive but incapacitated. In both cases the timing is hidden. Both authors announce this in a very off-hand manner, with no sentimentality, no romance. Both cons have to overcome their distaste for their mark. Both authors begin the story of the sex with that.

    Howard “hadn’t been sure how he would react to the foot, in bed.”
    Alare “found that Benji’s small size somehow pleased her in bed.”

    6. Both marks (Corrie and Benji) admit to being very inexperienced. Both are essentially virgins.

    Corrie “told [Howard] that she was not a virgin. But that turned out to be a complicated half-truth…”
    “Benji was essentially a virgin.”

    7. Both Corrie and Benji had gone along with a kind of molestation as a teen.

    Corrie had been seduced by a piano teacher in some way.
    Benji had been seduced by a much younger girl into giving her oral sex – no more.

    Both stories are confused and confusing. No pleasure was felt by either Benji or Corrie except that they pleased someone. One is reminded that they have been taught by the tyrannical parent to be humiliated. One can make the extension that both have been taught to deserve no pleasure themselves.

    8. Both Corrie and Benji defended their acquiescence by saying that they liked to please.

    Corrie says she “felt sorry for people who wanted things so badly.”
    Benji says that “there was something pitiful about [the younger girl who seduced him] – such desperation.”

    9. Both stories deal with the issue of whether or not Corrie or Benji considers their mark (their lover) to be pitiful in some way.

    Corrie says: “Don’t take that as an insult.” She says “she had not continued to feel sorry for people in that way.”
    When Alare asks Benji, “Do you feel sorry for me?” Benji answers, “Not sorry at all.”

    10. Both Howard and Benji “produced a condom”.

    11. Both stories now introduce the idea of religious guilt.

    Howard “had been brought up in a fiercely religious household and still believed in God, to some extent.”
    Alare goes on to some extent about how although having an affair while married was not Christian, “she was sure that God would forgive. She goes on at length about that.

    Both Howard and Alare use their religiosity (fake or real) to pose as pitiful.
    Howard goes one better and says that his wife “made a joke” of his religious ideas.
    Again – both Howard and Alare make sure that their mark is able to “feel sorry” for them.

    Neither story treats religion as a meaningful philosophical topic. Given that both Howard and Alare are running a long con, their ideas about religion appear to be superficial at best. Both are hypocritical.

    12. Both Corrie and Benji reply to these remarks about religion.

    Corrie says that “she herself had never had any time for God, because her father was enough to cope with.”
    Benji says that “[Religion] was not his thing.” He says he hadn’t been to church more than a few times as an adult.

    13. Both elderly parents die. Neither story mentions grief, mourning, or funeral. Neither story has any solicitation for comfort from Corrie or Benji, and neither Howard nor Alare offer any at all.

    Both stories place the lack of the funeral about where the con focuses attention on their own half-guilt over their affair.

    14. Both affairs rolled on without event or emotion.

    “Corrie”: “It wasn’t difficult for them.”
    “Benji”: “It was an easy affair.”

    15. Both couples are able to meet frequently without alarming the spouse.

    “Howard’s job often required him to travel for a daytime inspection or to see a client.”
    Alare came over every day; she said “she simply gave her husband a half-truth: that she was helping take care of a sick friend.”

    16. Neither con lives very far from the mark.

    Howard’s “drive from Kitchener didn’t take long.”
    Alare can visit “every day.”

    In this section, a sexual liaison is begun by both couples. Both Howard and Alare make clear they are making a sacrifice. In neither case do we hear of romance. All four participants appear to view the liaison with businesslike attitudes. No one talks of love. No one asks for pledges. No one feels the earth move. Elements of humiliation exist for all four. The affairs appear to be a very weird business. Somehow, there is the idea that Corrie and Benji are looking for someone they can keep at a distance, like a prostitute.

  212. Betsy November 21, 2013 at 10:57 am

    I had a little difficulty submitting the above comment.

    I want to say that doing this close comparison is a tedious and not ahappy task. I worry about accuracy. Please let me know if you see anything that needs correction.

    I also worry about slighting or misrepresenting either author.

    Also – I reiterate that it is also important to look at the ways this story is different and what those differences mean. For me, it makes more sense to write that as a single essay at the end.

  213. Archer November 22, 2013 at 12:18 am

    There really has been great discussion in this thread. Some of the analysis and investigative skills in your posts are worthy of, dare I say it, publication in The New Yorker!

    Anyway, I thought you all might be interested to know that Alice Munro has an online home now!

    This appears to be an official website, where you can actually send her a fan letter if you wish. I’ve heard that Munro has been very gracious about replying to fan mail in the past, though she might want to take it easy at this point in her life.

    I’m tempted to reach out and ask what she thinks of all this controversy — naturally, hers is the opinion we’re most curious about. Though, I assume she’s busy with other stuff at the moment. Reportedly, in lieu of the traditional Nobel lecture, Munro will instead be taking part in a taped conversation. What I’d really like is a new story. If we’ve learned anything from this incident, it’s that Alice Munro is a master who is often imitated, but never duplicated.

  214. Betsy November 22, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Part 1: They meet – in a previous post
    Part 2: Postcards – in a previous post
    Part 3: The Affair Begins – in a previous post
    Extortion Begins: (Benji: page 3, column 3; Corrie, page 2, column 2)
    1. Extortion begins in both stories with a complicated story from Howard and Alare, complicated moral hesitation on the part of Howard and Alare, and a complicated response from Corrie and Benji. This section is so delicately maneuvered that it must have been hard for Munro to write. In fact, this is the one section that is longer in Munro than in Okparanta.
    2. In Munro, the extortion actually begins with Corrie being softened up by Sadie. Sadie goes “off to find a city job”. For some reason, we don’t know what, Corrie gives “her money for typing lessons so she could better herself.” Whether Sadie and Howard are in cahoots, we do not know.
    In “Benji”, there is no such episode. But Sadie’s counterpart in “Benji” is Godwin, the gardener. He does magnificent work that Alare tells us about. That he is Alare’s husband, we do not know until the end. But if Alare has set up a long con, she is definitely and more obviously in cahoots with Godwin.
    3. Both Howard and Alare present Corrie and Benji with a complicated story.
    Howard’s story begins with Howard and his wife encountering Sadie at a dinner party where Sadie was working as a maid. Sadie has written him a letter threatening to expose him to his wife.
    Alare’s story begins with her husband having “terrible bursts of pain in his head… [and]…spasms in his limbs as well.” He is also ‘getting thinner”. She suggests that he will soon be unable to walk.
    4. Both stories have a weird glitch or two.
    Howard inserts in his story that Sadie noticed his wife’s “silver- fox collar”. Corrie wonders how Sadie would know what a silver-fox collar was. (It’s true she could have known, but what matters is that Corrie is slightly suspicious of the story.)
    Alare’s story is a bit of a clunker with so many disparate symptoms. Benji, however, does not challenge the story, for whatever reason. He is stupid? Or smart like a fox?
    Howard’s more serious glitch is that he has burned Sadie’s letter. That makes it seem to the reader that he and Sadie are probably not in cahoots.
    5. Both Corrie and Benji joke about killing Sadie and the husband, using almost exactly the same words.
    Corrie: “I guess killing her is not an option?”
    Benji: “I guess letting him go is not an option?”
    The way this joke is inserted into the conversation reminds the reader of each elderly parent’s sudden death. One wonders if either Benji or Corrie had “let” their parent go in some way.
    6. Both Corrie and Benji feel a change in the atmosphere.
    Corrie feels cold.
    Benji notices the dark coming on.
    Corrie’s coldness is amplified by the fact that Howard’s mood had prevented her from asking him to build a fire. She is already following his lead. He had also “touched her only once”.
    7. Both Howard and Alare maneuver Corrie and Benji into bringing up gifting money first.
    Corrie: “We could give her the money.”
    Benji: “How much do you think it’ll cost?”
    And then later, Benji says: “I really don’t mind helping with the bills.”
    8. Arrangements are made for payment:
    Howard insists on cash to put into a post box twice a year for Sadie to pick up.
    Alare accepts Benji’s offer of cash. Ironically, he suggests that Godwin be the courier for any future payments.
    9. Both Alare and Howard threaten Corrie and Benji with separation.
    When Corrie indicates that their separation is not the worst thing that could happen, Howard doesn’t get it. It is at that point that Corrie suggests “giving” Sadie the money.
    Alare outright suggests maybe she should give this relationship with Benji up. Then she says, “I probably won’t be back for a while.” At that point, he gets out the cash.
    10. Both stories refer to “a sign”.
    Corrie thinks: “For what if he said no? [to her offer of money] It’s a sign we should stop.”
    “What [Alare] was saying was that perhaps this was a sign.” She goes on to say: “A sign I should stop fooling around.”
    11. Both Howard and Alare manipulate the conversation to make sure that Corrie and Benji feel guilty about their liaison with references to Howard and Alare’s responsibility to family or spouse, respectively.
    12. Both couples close with the idea that they will continue on as before.
    13. Both Howard and Alare make a small gesture of communication in parting.
    Howard says, “I could not stand for there to be an end of you and me.”
    The narrator indicates that Alare says, “She could not wait for things to return to normal.”
    14. In both stories, the lover indicates a separation will occur if money isn’t exchanged.
    In Munro, the whole situation is intensified when Corrie mentions going to the police.
    15. In both stories, there is a kind of vow taken.

    16. The next short section in Munro disposes of Sadie – how she’s unlikely to be seen by either Corrie or Howard. A puzzling half paragraph ends the short section on how the town had gone “downhill”. Attention is given to a furniture store that is full of stuff but closed until “the owner die[s].” That appears to reinforce the idea that things will stay the same now.
    There is a mention of a “convenience store”, probably to emphasize that Corrie is Howard’s drive-up sexual convenience and his ATM as well.
    This idea is picked up in “Benji” by the fact that Benji has opened a convenience store, perhaps to suggest that Benji is Alare’s convenience store.
    17. Both Benji and Corrie branch out.
    Benji, as mentioned, opens a convenience store nearby in a rundown “shack”. He spends a lot of time there
    Corrie started up a museum in the building where her father had once had his shoe factory. She feels satisfied with her effort.
    18. Both relationships change.
    Howard starts spending longer periods of time at Corrie’s house.
    Alare starts working for Benji at the convenience store.
    Benji and Alare use the addition to the convenience store as a place to meet.
    It is as if Corrie and Benji are experimenting with cooperative relationships and nesting.
    19. Both Howard and Alare are gone for extended periods. Howard takes his wife to Spain; Alare takes her husband to England for medical treatment.
    20. Both Corrie and Benji feel more attached to their lover than ever.
    “Sometimes Corrie would fill up with tears, hiding her face against him. // It’s just we’re so lucky.”
    Benji thinks to himself: “He felt her absence more this time. But he did his best to busy himself with the store.”
    Alare allows her eyes “to fill up with tears as she told him what a wonderful man he was.”
    21. Both couples have the experience of a long relationship.
    22. Both Benji and Corrie develop new interests. Corrie takes up working at the town library. Benji takes up painting.
    23. Both Howard and Alare are somewhat threatened by these new interests.
    “Howard was somewhat dismayed by the change in her life.”
    “[Alare] was disheartened by this new undertaking.
    24. Threatened, both Howard and Alare change their behavior.
    Alare says that her husband will not be needing medical treatments for the time being.
    Howard begins to take Corrie on little trips.
    25. Both Corrie and Benji have the sense that something is a little off about the long-con-story.
    Benji notices (approvingly?) that Alare has gained weight since they met. She was “Not shedding kilos like a person under the stress of dealing with a sick husband.”
    On their trips, Corrie and Howard never meet anyone who recognizes Howard.
    26. The Long Con Ends; at least in its first form.
    Sadie dies. Through a series of realizations, Corrie realizes that there had never been a post box and that Howard had been pocketing the money.
    Godwin quits his job with Benji. There is now a question about the delivery of Alare’s money. They agree Benji will give it directly to her. Benji makes the mistake of going to her house. He recognizes Alare and Godwin, sees them kissing.
    27. Both Corrie and Benji go through a process of upheaval during one overnight and morning. Corrie realizes that Howard has been pocketing the money. Benji realizes that Godwin is Alare’s husband and he has been double-conned. .
    Corrie first has to reject three attempts at writing a letter to Howard. She has to work out the timing of the payments and Sadie’s death.
    Benji imagines, more than once, confronting Alare and Godwin . He realizes that their fancy house and cars were what he had paid for, not medicines or trips abroad to doctors.
    28. The upheaval continues into the morning.
    Benji awakes, having slept all night in a wicker chair, and he “rose angrily.” Anger, for Benji, is a new emotion, and probably a good one. He wants to “spew all the blackness on them” in a confrontation at their house. The he considers what he will lose. “[Alare] was to him what money was to her.
    29. After a night of realization, Both Corrie and Benji eat breakfast.
    The difference is that Corrie has been through an earthquake. There is “a cavity” anywhere she looks in the house.
    Benji, in contrast feels darkness all around him.” Cavity is more powerful, with its suggestion of tomb, decay, emptiness, and excavation.
    30. Both realize they still have options.
    Corrie realizes, “she is capable, still, of shaping up another possibility.”
    Benji thinks: “…the thought occurred to him. Was that what he really wanted?”
    31. Both Corrie and Benji decide to proceed as if nothing had happened.
    Corrie: “And after all, if what they had –what they have—demands payment, she is the one who can afford to pay.”
    Benji: “Well, he had not found a wife for himself. But Alare was certainly the next best thing, and so she was at stake for him.
    32. The biggest difference in the two stories is that Benji feels confident in the last paragraph of the story. He will show that “today [is] just another ordinary day. Corrie, on the other hand, enters the kitchen “gingerly”. She moves ‘gingerly” because she must make the superhuman effort to “[make] everything fit into its proper place.

  215. Paul Epstein November 22, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Two points about the controversy come to mind. It has been said that the writing and submission process takes so long that Okparanta must have started writing Benji straight after Benji was published. This theory doesn’t hold up when reflecting that Kilifi Creek is based on a news story that happened on August 2013.

    Also, Okparanta said in an interview in reply to the question:
    Who are your literary influences?

    These days I find myself mostly influenced by Alice Munro. Her stories are so universal and many times I have thought that they are actually very much Nigerian. A recent project of mine was different from anything else I’ve written in the sense that it was essentially a study of one of Munro’s stories, modeled directly on hers, in order to put her Canadian story in conversation with my Nigerian one, parallel plot points and structure in attempt to put the narratives in a sort of cross-cultural dialogue with each other.

    Aside from Alice Munro, I have been influenced by writers such as Chinua Achebe, Marilynne Robinson, Kate O’Brien, Ian McEwan, Helen Oyeyemi, among others.

    To see the full interview, see

    Paul Epstein

  216. Paul Epstein November 22, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Sorry — obvious typo above I meant “straight after Corrie was published.”

  217. Mark November 22, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Sorry, doubters, but the litany of ‘proof’ that she is going to give for the rest of her life that this was an ‘homage’ is going to come as a clear – to me – revisionist response to protect her reputation.

    The 5 Questions piece on Afridiaspora is a little too convenient and worded a little too perfectly for it to be taken seriously. AND It was published on their site after this whole brouhaha was well in the public eye AND seems so clearly to be a cloddy attempt at damage control. This whole thing is so odious. She is – to me – yet another literary fraud perpetuated on the public because there are so many ancillary players who are earning money off of her. It’s really disgusting.

  218. Steven November 22, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    No! she’s no literary fraud. The story was intended as a homage. Get over it.

  219. Archer November 22, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    Yeah, I think the lady doth protest a bit too much in that interview. (The answer to the last question seems quite pointed as well.) I just find it very odd that Okparanta would go out of her way to talk about modelling a story after Alice Munro’s (in answer to an unrelated question), when she didn’t see fit to mention it at all in the New Yorker Q&A — that was about the actual story!

    I feel that I’ve made an effort not to get personal about Okparanta in this discussion. I don’t want to cast aspersions on anyone, and it’s a serious charge to attack someone’s integrity. But, I’ll be frank, this doesn’t look good.

    As much as I didn’t like it, I was pretty much over this whole thing. Now I’m annoyed again!

  220. Mike November 23, 2013 at 5:13 am

    Ridiculous interview. So now it’s a study of Munro? Please. She’s making a laughing stock of the TNY.

  221. avataram November 23, 2013 at 5:43 am

    Tough to erase this blog post and 200+ comment thread, so she has to do what she can as a revisionist response. TNY has shown her the way by cooking up dates and deleting comments- she is just following their lead.

  222. Paul Epstein November 23, 2013 at 6:04 am

    As someone more experienced with maths forums than literary forums, I find it interesting that this forum, and Cliff Garstang’s forum, are far more focused and less prone to wild divergence than the maths forums I’ve visited, where discussions are far more digressive. I think that if you asked a random person, they would guess (completely wrongly) that maths people tend to be logical and analytical, and literary people are more creative and eccentric, so that literary discussions would be more digressive.

    Now I’m going to digress a bit, and that paragraph was a preamble to make a poor excuse for the forthcoming digression.

    This has been part of a discussion on the question of literary influences. I remember an undergraduate creative writing class that I took 19 years ago. One of the student’s poems copied T.S. Eliot’s style extremely closely — it seemed the student was trying to copy the style. Of course, this is something to be commended at undergraduate level. The writer was sitting next to me and making notes as we discussed it. The Eliot influence came up, of course, and I saw him make his note “Eliot influenced.”

    I’m sure that this is unreasonable of me, but at that point, I felt very disillusioned and that he was being completely pretentious. Surely, there was no reason to note that it was Eliot influenced because it was so utterly obvious. I felt like he was trying to pretend, at some level, that the influence was so subtle that it had to be noted in writing.

    Paul Epstein

  223. Betsy November 23, 2013 at 8:33 am

    How Chinelo Okparanta’s “Benji” differs significantly from Alice Munro’s “Corrie” is not in the use of Nigeria as the setting, not in the application of religion, and not in the glancing reference to the medical problems that Nigeria has. It is the spirit of the one story that is different from the spirit of the other.
    Corrie’s relationship with her father has played out in a terrible isolation. She appears to have no significant relationship with a servant, if in fact she has any servants at all, other than the man who toward the end mows her lawn. She has no friends, no church, and the library where she works appears to have no patrons. We have no evidence that she ever went to college. Her father’s tyranny has evidently made her interaction with the world practically impossible.
    Benji, in contrast, has actually made it to college, because he refers to his business education. While Corrie has made only one trip that we know of, Benji has been to Dubai more than once. He has a houseful of servants, and he relates to them. Most significantly, when he starts up his convenience store, he has to renovate it, and he has to interact with vendors and customers. This is a lively operation. More important, there are no scenes of decay, emptiness, or abandonment to support the idea that he is a hollow man in a hollow life.
    When Benji and Corrie face the truth of the deception that Howard, Alare and Godwin have played on them, the final scene for both is very different. While Corrie is completely alone in a run-down cavernous house, Benji is surrounded with servants in a house that is most likely gleaming, and he has the life of the garden that is like “Versailles.”
    What is so telling is each author’s depiction, at the end, of each character’s emotional state. Corrie feels “A cavity everywhere, most notably in her chest.” The reverberations from the word cavity are multiple: cavern, tomb, decay, collapse and excavation come to mind. A cavity is what her house is, what the old factory was,what the town now is, and what the library is. Her entire life is made up of repeating emptiness. And these cavities are static. There is no natural expectation in the idea of cavity that it will naturally reverse itself.
    Benji, in contrast, experiences the betrayal in darkness, and as darkness. But darkness has within it the natural expectation of dawn, and in fact, when dawn arrives, Benji goes in to receive his breakfast from his servants.
    The increasing isolation within which Corrie lives is not echoed in Benji. Most telling, at the end, betrayed, Corrie has no parent to fall back on in imagination. Benji, however, is able to use his mother’s strength as a means for making his accommodation to the new situation. At the very end, Benji seeks his mother in memory and finds in that memory inspiration for his decision. Corrie has no such recourse. Her isolation is complete.
    To a degree, the difference in spirit between the stories is due, in the end, to Benji’s emergent masculinity. To a greater degree, the difference in spirit is the loyalty with which Munro imagines the effects of an incestuous father-daughter relationship (Whether the relationship is physical or not is not the point; it is that the father has wrongfully inhabited Corrie that matters.) The father has hollowed Corrie out. Where her self should be, there is a cavity. That is the picture of incest, when there is no self left, but perhaps that goes too far for you. Surely, though, Corrie is the picture of abandonment.
    Not so for Benji. One might describe him as reserved or cautious, but not empty. That makes the story merely the story of a long con, not the story of a girl who father appropriated her life to throw away.
    Time functions differently in “Corrie” . Time for Corrie is represented by Munro by the abandoned furniture store, in which no life appears, and which lifelessness will only be removed by the owner’s death. Or perhaps no change will ever occur. Maybe the store will stand abandoned for Corrie’s lifetime. Time both stands still and is endless. In contrast, time is represented in “Benji” by the shack that is transformed into not just a convenience store, but also a love nest. This does not exactly honor Munro’s bleak outlook on human nature and especially, the situation of women.
    As for whether or not “Benji” was intended to be an homage to Munro – that is entirely possible. Whether it is successful as homage is another story. That it was intended as homage isn’t really the question. Homage can be done by a student and it can be done by an artist. The one is more like an exercise, the other is more like flight.
    If you want homage – listen to Bach’s Goldberg variations and then listen to Beehoven’s Diabelli variations.
    But for our purposes, I think that Nathan Englander’s take on Raymond Carver or Lorrie Moore’s take on Vladimir Nabokov is the way to go. How does the second story reflect upon the first? In what spirit is the second story in conversation with first?

  224. Mike November 23, 2013 at 8:54 am

    I agree with Betsy that Englander’s and Moore’s versions are the way to go – because they are honest. The fact that Munro was not mentioned in the Q&A or anywhere else is what makes me completely uninterested in the question of what intent lies behind “Benji”. Nathan Englander made it abundantly clear that he was paying homage. Okparanta’s take was more like, “Well, if anyone notices, I’ll say it was homage. If not, then all the better.” That is deception.

  225. Josh November 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    As a fellow writer and MFA graduate, I can tell you that modeling a story after a story of an admired famous person happens all the time, both in MFA programs and in publication. In music, art, poetry, fiction…modeling and homages are common enough to be a pretty standard practice. I completely agree with you, Steven. There is nothing here to call plagiarism. And yes, Paul, Chinelo Okparanta has been forthcoming about her appreciation of Alice Munroe all along. I am having trouble understanding what motivates assuming the worst about this author.

  226. Trevor November 23, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    As a fellow writer and MFA graduate, I can tell you that modeling a story after a story of an admired famous person happens all the time, both in MFA programs and in publication. In music, art, poetry, fiction…modeling and homages are common enough to be a pretty standard practice.

    This is irrelevant. No one here is disputing this. We all know that homages, tributes, models, conversations, etc. are common, for better and for worse. We also know that rip-offs are.

    There is a line, and many people feel that Okparanta crossed it with this story. You say “there is nothing here to call plagiarism,” but you don’t respond to the pages of comments that point out exactly what might be considered plagiarism.

    We also dispute this:

    Chinelo Okparanta has been forthcoming about her appreciation of Alice Munroe all along.

    There is no evidence of this, leaving many of us to assume bad faith.

  227. Steven November 23, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks, Josh. That’s all I’ve been trying to explain here for a week now. It seems the disgruntled majority on this blog who chose to “assume bad faith” are neglecting the fact that although Okparanta is not as established as Lorrie Moore or Nathan Englander–two writers who surprisingly didn’t catch any flack on this blog for doing the same thing–she is a professional writer who has published short stories in journals in the past.

  228. Betsy November 23, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    Steven, I offer my admiration to you for your gallant loyalty to Okparanta.
    It is always important that someone, be they a bystander or a friend, speak on behalf of a person whose work is questioned.

    As for whether I think Okparanta’s story is “same thing” or works in the same way as Moore’s and Englander’s, I cannot say until I’ve done the reading.

    I plan to read all four stories (Moore and Nabokov, and Carver and Englander) carefully. Two I have read before, two I have not. It will take me a while to process each story.

    It will then take me time to think through how the writing in Englander and Moore is determined or affected by the original story by Carver or Nabokov, and whether they have simply reproduced the story or whether they have created something which is inspired by Nabokov and Carver, but substantially different and essentially new.

    Then I will consider in what way Okparanta’s writing process is similar or different to theirs.

    I would welcome it if you did the same.

    After all, what I think is simply what only I think.

    I do not dismiss your assertion that what Okparanta has done is the same as what Englander and Moore did, but I want to do the reading myself.

    I am not “neglecting” this issue. It takes time to do the reading. And it takes me time to actually understand what I have read, especially if the questions regarding the reading are complicated and serious.

    So it will be a while.

  229. Trevor November 23, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    I think it’s important that someone speak on behalf of Okparanta, too, but I am getting tired of general comments. Betsy is doing a fantastic job looking into all of the corners here, and I wish someone who disagreed with us would do the same thing.

    I hope they keep in mind the following:

    I do not care if Okparanta is established or not. I do not care what her intent was. I have yet to hear any convincing reason why I should consider “Benji” more than a very poor imitation. There is a line you keep choosing to ignore. I feel that Englander and Moore were on the right side of that line (not everyone did); I’m not sure about Okparanta. I’ve read each story at issue.

    Steven, all we’ve asked you (and others) to do is respond to our arguments. Some of us are not so firmly entrenched we couldn’t be swayed, and some of us are more interested in the ethical issues under discussion than the author. You’ve only consistently side-stepped each of these to produce some vague, general statement. And with this latest comment you’ve simply parroted a comment I already said was irrelevant. Could you do a little bit more, please? If not, there is little sense in continuing this conversation.

  230. Steven November 23, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Betsy, I just read the similarities and differences you pointed out. They are on point but I completely disagree with your opinion that Moore and Englander’s stories are the way to go. What rules did Okparanta break in her homage? The Lorrie Moore story is very similar to Nabokov’s: the only difference is that the couple are able to see their son in the hospital, unlike the couple in “Symbols and Signs.” The answer to your question is in Okparanta’s response to TNY: “I was working on a story about a poor couple in Nigeria who created an illness plot in order to get money from a rich, unmarried, pale-skinned short man. After reading “Corrie,” I wanted “Benji” to work as an homage to Munro regarding the parallel plot/structure points, but with different sociocultural contexts, in a way that gave rise to, I hope, a wholly new story.”

  231. Steven November 23, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Trevor, I never said “Benji” was a very good homage—or “imitation” as you put it—of “Corrie.” My defense for Okparanta is strictly centered on her professionalism: whether she plagiarized “Corrie” or not. I totally understand why readers will assume plagiarism, and I tried to deflect the bad attention Okparanta was getting on this blog by stating that the unpopularity and recent publication of “Corrie” might have caused Willing Davidson, the interviewer and editor of “Benji,” to have forgone mentioning Munro’s story in the interview. Maybe he hadn’t read “Corrie” before that interview. I also mentioned that the updated interview implied that Okparanta had mentioned “Corrie” in the past.

  232. Betsy November 24, 2013 at 12:11 am

    Steven, to me, a reader, “Benji” is not “a wholly new story.” From beginning to end, the writer appears to be working directly from Munro’s manuscript. In several places words are used verbatim. I agree with Trevor. Okparanta has crossed a line.

    As for Moore and Englander, I have no opinion until I have reread the stories. Perhaps that was not clear. I will do it, but in time.

    Munro is the Nobel winner. Hers is the work I need to read now.

  233. Steven November 24, 2013 at 12:58 am

    My last comment on this issue:

    Ok, maybe you need to reread Nabokov’s story, then Moore’s, before coming to a conclusion about Okparanta’s. Moore’s story, unlike Englander’s, didn’t feel like a whole new story, and like Englander’s, consisted of several sentences that were present in the pieces they were both referring to. For example:

    Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols”: “During the long ride to the subway station, she and her husband did not exchange a word, and every time she glanced at his old hands, clasped and twitching upon the handle of his umbrella, and saw their swollen veins and brown-spotted skin, she felt the mounting pressure of tears.”

    Moore’s “Referential”: “On the ride home, she and Pete did not exchange a word and every time she looked at his aging hands, arthritically clasping the steering wheel, the familiar thumbs slung low in their slightly simian way, she understood anew the desperate place, though their desperations were separate, not shared, and her eyes then felt the stabbing pressure of tears.”

  234. ethan November 24, 2013 at 3:38 am

    My argument is still not being responded to. Let me repost it a THIRD time!

    “If Okparanta thought her “homage” was acceptable, she would have been forthright about it. Because she was not forthright, we know that she herself did not think it was acceptable. We know she was not forthright because too many people, including the new yorker, discussed the story without knowing that it was paying homage to anything/any one, much less who or what that thing was. Passing on another’s work as your own is plagiarism.”

    I don’t care what she said after the initial publication and interview. She is only pointing it out AFTER it was caught! There simply was not enough done to show that the story was an homage, or more people would have noticed. Not only did TNY not notice, no blog on the internet had noticed it. Plain and simple, Okparanta did not want people to know there was an “original,” or we all would have known from the start instead of “finding out.” I don’t care if YOU think its okay; SHE does not! If a criminal takes the stand and says “I would never hurt anyone!” do you take him on his word? Of course not. This is because actions speak louder than words.

  235. Mark November 24, 2013 at 5:01 am

    The reason none of her personally affiliated supporters or anonymous bystanding defenders – as nice and good people as they may be – are addressing things factually or responding to Ethan’s argument cogently is because they each do not want to look closely at the timeline of events (not to mention the point-by-point, pilfer-by-numbers, prima facie case that has been well-established by you and me and others). The story, the revisionist Q&A, the post-publication defensive explanation at Afridiaspora, the oddly supportive contributors (students, friends, noms de plume, unaffiliated web denizens, current agent, TNY staff, publisher reps????) on this thread and in the rarefied, codified and nepotistic world of letters out there – every iota of this stuff is positively risible.

    I suspect Okparanta has been lassoed and is simply struggling to break free from the pesky truth so she can move on and set about being taken seriously as a writer, or some such other claptrap. But, as I said on an earlier post, one’s character, one’s deep and true habitual inner core, is unmasked by one’s actions. (Ditto for TNY as an entity made up by human beings with free will and choice in their quivers. They seem to have instead pulled out cloaks and mirrors and Stalinesque negationism.)

    To me – and, frankly, anyone who will bother with confronting the facts of this case – she is simply proving, by her post-publication contribution to a revisionist record at TNY and subsequent commentary oh-so-perfectly placed at Afridiaspora, that there is likely something wrong with her ethical compass. The reason I am not all that surprised about this whole incident is because I have a family member who is fairly Okparanta’s moral doppelganger and I have been forcefed dozens of versions of this incident and post-incident rhetoric for more than 30 years.

    Luckily, we have literature to help us explain the vagaries of human behavior and to help us nourish our spirit and speak truth where truth will otherwise be obscured. This event has the seed of a great story, and in fact cousins well to the spirit of Shakespeare’s tragedies. The reality here is just too bloody unbelievable to be believed.

  236. Paul Epstein November 24, 2013 at 6:28 am

    Mark said “The reason none of her personally affiliated supporters or anonymous bystanding defenders – as nice and good people as they may be – are addressing things factually or responding to Ethan’s argument cogently is because they each do not want to look closely at the timeline of events..”

    As I said previously, I don’t defend Okparanta in the sense of saying she hasn’t made any mistake but I can’t really support the aggressive reaction to her. Rather than demanding an investigation, readers could simply comment on the lack of originality etc.

    Speaking for myself, the reason I don’t respond to the timelines etc. by Ethan and Betsy is that I don’t particularly disagree with anything they’ve said.

    Not sure whether or not Mark had myself in mind or not.

    Paul Epstein

  237. Paul Epstein November 24, 2013 at 6:38 am

    Let me just clarify where I agree with Ethan and Betsy. I agree that Betsy is doing a good job of analysing the stories’ similarity. Where I agree with Ethan is that I accept that his lawyerly THIRD-time-reposted argument is fully cogent.
    I didn’t mean to say I agree with him on everything. For example, I would not have made a blog accusing the author of plagiarism. I understand why Ethan did so, but I can’t say I agree with that decision of his.

    Paul Epstein

  238. Trevor November 24, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Ethan, though think I feel the same way you do, let me respond to this:

    My argument is still not being responded to. Let me repost it a THIRD time!

    “If Okparanta thought her “homage” was acceptable, she would have been forthright about it. Because she was not forthright, we know that she herself did not think it was acceptable. We know she was not forthright because too many people, including the new yorker, discussed the story without knowing that it was paying homage to anything/any one, much less who or what that thing was. Passing on another’s work as your own is plagiarism.”

    I don’t think we know any of the things you say we know. We simply assume, perhaps rightly, based on a lack of evidence to the contrary and the fact that this has never been adequately addressed by someone who would know.

    I’m sorry, but on this blog I’d really like us to stop speculating about Okparanta’s motives and about who knew what when. It will keep going in circles because there is nothing new to give either side of the argument strong footing. If new information comes to light, feel free to revisit this. But for the time being, please limit all comments on this post to analyzing the stories at issue comments about whether the story itself crosses the line, whether Okparanta meant it to or not, whether The New Yorker knew anything or not.

  239. Emily November 25, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Where I think this conversation goes awry is the assigning of intention. All the serious criticism on this blog stems from an assumption that Ms. Okparanta’s intention was somehow to defraud the New Yorker and its readers–and Ms. Munro. There are a few things I know: One is that the New Yorker and its readers are a very savvy group, not to mention Ms. Alice Munro, and Ms. Okparanta is not a stupid woman. If her intention was to pull a fast one, this is hardly the venue in which to do it, nor the audience to do it to. Another thing I know is that Ms. Okparanta’s agent is extremely well-known and well-read. Again–hardly a person to be fooled. So once we move past the assumption (which seems to be oddly personal in nature at times) of guilt, most of what is being slung here doesn’t stick.

    Alternative scenario: Ms. Okparanta told the New Yorker and her agent that the story was modeled after the Munro story; neither her agent nor the magazine thought it was a problem. The story went forward. There were accusations. All concerned decided there should be clarification. End.

    The New Yorker would hardly risk alienating someone like Alice Munro, would they? Even if they love Okparanta, wouldn’t they side quickly with Munro if there had been any intentional wrongdoing?

  240. Archer November 26, 2013 at 1:51 am

    Hi Emily. I appreciate your outlining of an alternative scenario. It would appear to be a sensible one.

    But it doesn’t really answer what seems to me the most puzzling question in this situation. Why did nobody mention the Alice Munro connection in the original Q&A? As we’ve discussed here, the times when other “homages” have been published in the magazine, they’ve been acknowledged as such right away. Does it not seem exceedingly strange that, in this case, they decided it’s unnecessary to do so?

    I also think assumption goes both ways. One assumes that savvy readers, top editors and well-known agents would never let something untoward happen. But if that fascinating article Trevor linked to is any indication, strange and improbable things do occur, even at the New Yorker.

  241. Paul Epstein November 26, 2013 at 6:04 am


    It’s clear that not mentioning the connection in the Q & A was a mistake. Emily’s whole point is that we don’t know who made the mistake or how it was made, so we shouldn’t be ascribing guilt to individuals.

    There are quite literally millions of ways the mistake could have happened. For example, maybe the updated Q and A should have been part of the original Q & A but a mistake was made by the team (or person) running the New Yorker website.

    I know people will object that the New Yorker should have said exactly how the mistake was made but, in the corporate world, no one wants to point the finger at an individual when a mistake happens — there’s a doctrine of joint responsibility.

    Paul Epstein

  242. Roger November 26, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    Reasonable inferences about intent can be made by reviewing “Benji” and taking notice of its mimicry of “Corrie,” scene-by-scene and line-by-line. When someone else’s work is copied without any attribution, explicit or implicit (e.g., a wink in the title, like “Referential”), it is hard not to infer plagiarism. That inference is bolstered by what Okparanta did and did not say, what she eventually said, and the circumstances (criticism from readers) that preceded her eventual “homage” defense. Critics of Okparanta and the New Yorker have not made assumptions; we have analyzed the two stories and drawn appropriate conclusions based on that analysis.

    The New Yorker’s unwillingness to sufficiently address what happened may be understandable, because people and organizations have an interest in avoiding responsibility for bad acts. Perhaps additional outside scrutiny and criticism will alter the magazine’s calculus. If they have an exculpatory explanation to offer, they should offer it.

  243. Betsy November 27, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Can Chinelo Okparanta claim that what she has done with “Corrie” is similar to what Nathan Englander did with “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and therefore legitimate? No.

    Whether Nathan Englander’s riff on Raymond Carver’s story is original or ethical is hardly a question. The Englander story is so profoundly different and imaginative that finding the similarities between the two stories is the problem, not finding the differences. At every point, Englander diverges.

    Yes, the titles are so similar it’s hard to miss the homage. But the leap, and I mean leap, to Anne Frank is hard to miss as a startling difference.
    Yes, both start with the same phrase – to think something “gives them the right” to go on at length, to lecture. But immediately, the two people doing the lecturing are completely different, and no carbon copy in any way. Carver’s Mel is a divorced cardiologist and a surgeon, while Englander’s Mark is a convert to Hasidism, an American immigrant in Israel, a father of ten, and a long-married businessman.

    Religion plays a part in both stories, but in Carver it is the 5 years in seminary that makes Mel yearn for a “spiritual love”, while in Englander, Mark’s years in the yeshiva lead to him converting to Hasidism and emigrating to Israel. Mark’s is not a split history; his history is of a piece.

    Yes, there are two couples who get together and get very high. But the substances they are using, gin and pot, are topics of conversation and topics of the plot in Englander, while not so at all in the Carver.

    Denial, regarding drinking and drugs, is important in both stories, but in Carver, it is left to the reader to imagine how this drinking is affecting the surgeon’s skills. In Englander, the question is developed: Debbie wonders about her early drug use and her memory; Mark mentions that Israelis smoke a lot of pot – although this seems so wild that perhaps it’s part of his denial; Lauren says her children don’t know anting about their drug use; Mark and Lauren deny (laughably) that their drug use has nothing to do with Hasidism; Debbie knows that her son, who has slept until 3, is using pot, but she’s kept it from her husband.

    And both stories revolve around memory: in Carver, Mel cannot let go of his first wife. In Englander, neither Mark nor Debbie can let go of the holocaust. In Englander, there is also the suggestion of long held secrets, while in Carver, secrets are not the issue. What matters to this discussion is that Englander widens and develops this topic. Both stories are about memory, but the Carver memories are more like grudges. In Englander, Debbie is compelled to remember the holocaust, and what she is trying to remember is 6 million stories. Mark encounters a specific long memory in his father’s Palm Beach locker room: the fact that so-and-so “cut”. But then, we know that the speaker probably cut, too, in one way or another. Memory is vast in Englander, and it is also in danger, given that Debbie thinks quite a bit about whether she is losing her memory due to her early drug use.

    And both are about betrayal. But Carver’s story is domestic in scope, while Englander’s embraces the world and history. Carver’s Terri betrays Mel by having an affair with him while he’s still married and separating him from his children. Carver’s Terri betrays her beloved by using him to escape from a batterer. Carver’s Terri betrays Mel by clinging to how much the batterer loved her. Carver’s Mel betrays his Monday’s patients by indulging in a Sunday gin-binge. Carver’s Mel betrays Terri with his still passionate involvement with his wife. These are betrayals of domesticity.

    The betrayals in Englander have vast, historic roots and a world-wide setting. Mark and Lauren convert to a medieval form of Judaism. They emigrate to Israel. Mark speaks about betrayals to Judaism by the people who marry out. Mark’s parents survive the holocaust – but the other 6 million die. Mark’s father goes to a club where there is another member with a tattoo on his arm separating him from Mark’s father by only 2 digits. They hardly speak. “You cut”, says the father to the man. There is that sense that if you are going to survive a holocaust, the only way is that you put yourself first, even if it’s only in accepting being saved by another. So when the Englander couples play the “Anne Frank game”, the startled Mark reveals by his silence he probably wouldn’t hide his wife. He cannot imagine not surviving. Even in a game, his first thought is not altruistic. To a degree, this posture is determined by the history Mark and his family has lived. But in no way is this merely a domestic betrayal.

    Structurally, the stories differ enormously even though they are both told in the first person: Carver’s story is basically Mel’s harangue, his monologue and story of his life; Englander’s story is a complicated dance of interaction between 2 couples, or between 3 people and an onlooker, and the story is told in the action of the here and now.

    Structurally, also, the Englander story is darkly funny throughout in a variety of ways, whereas the Carver story is not funny at all.

    In addition, structurally, the narrator in Carver’s story is an innocent in love with his wife, still content to be in the honeymoon of it all. In Englander, the narrator is a man who loves his wife, but finds himself very unsettled by finding out his wife was once a stoner, and that she knows their son has pot and hasn’t told him.

    Finally, In Carver, the innocent couple finds the strange marriage of their friends revealed – a marriage that is tormented by the fact the husband can’t let go of his wife. In Englander, it is an unknowing wife who finds her husband revealed. In the event of a holocaust, her husband would save himself first.

    Carver’s story has no relation to history or the wider world. Englander’s is determined by genocide.

    The real question about these two stories is why did Englander tie his story to Carver’s? Was he attempting to shine in Carver’s reflected glory? Was he attempting to announce himself as ‘the new Carver’? Was he attempting to displace Carver? No, no, and no, I think.

    Englander mentions in his interview with Page-Turner that he was taken with the idea of two couples drinking in a kitchen. It may have been that frame that appealed must to Englander. Talking about how hard writing is, he talks about the push that having that frame gave him.

    Beyond the frame, the stories are vastly different. To a degree, Carver’s story is sentimental, because it imagines the possibility of an ideal marriage in Nick and Laura. To a degree, Englander’s story is brutal, because it pits love against survival.

    Chinelo Okparanta’s “Benji” cannot be put in the same category as Nathan Englander’s ‘Talk About’ story.

    The Englander plot is wildly original, argumentative, creative, stunning, upsetting and thought provoking. The Okparanta plot is all that, but it isn’t her plot. In this case, it is Munro who is the author of the wildly original, argumentative, creative, stunning, upsetting and thought provoking story.

    The manner in which Englander is “in conversation” with Carver is also genuine. While Carver is showing that marriages have layers of grudges, memories, and desire, he is also lauding the simple virtues of a marriage devoted to demonstrations of simple affections. Englander is saying that marriages live in the world and in the history that created them. Englander is not topping Carver, he’s talking with him. He’s saying, consider this. The reader considers the marriages in the one story and then the other and then back again. The reader considers memory in the one story and then the other and then back again. The same with history, and the same with cultural circumstance and the same with religion.

    Nothing of this complexity happens when I read “Corrie” and then “Benji”. The reason for that is the “conversation” between the two stories is not conversation but – which is the right word here? – Re-telling? Retailing? Copying?

    I wonder if Nathan Englander ever did a copy of another writer’s story in his life. Most likely not. I sense that this kind of exercise is useful with students who lack either experience, talent, or confidence. Such exercises may be useful training for screenwriters. There is, I know, an Oscar for “Best adapted screenplay”.

    Okparanta cannot cite Nathan Englander’s story as legitimizing what she has done. Neither can the New Yorker.

    Finally, there is the word “template”. Englander’s editor, Cressida Leyshon suggests that Englander has used the Carver story as a template. Englander replies in the emphatic negative.

    “And I didn’t let myself revisit Carver’s masterpiece until I was well into the writing. I say that because you ask about templates, and I guess the model I wanted to use was the one based not on the manuscript version of Carver’s story, but on what the story had turned into with time. I first wanted to work with the picture that had formed over the years and turned into memory, this sort of faceless visual of two couples at a table with a bottle between them, talking as a day slipped by. Only later did I go back and open Carver’s collection and decide that I wanted to give my story that same entrance, to really bind those worlds, with the narrator saying, “and people from there think it gives them the right.”

    He does goes on to say that starting with four characters in a kitchen and a bottle of gin was helpful.

    But any reader can see he was not sitting with a copy of Carver’s story at his elbow.

    The differences between the Englander and Carver stories are profound and compelling.

    The differences between the Okparanta story and its Munro original are slight and undeveloped.

    So when you talk to me about Chinelo Okparanta’s “Benji”, don’t talk to me about Nathan Englander’s riff on Raymond Carver. The comparison can’t be made.

  244. avataram November 27, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    Here is Yiyun Li, talking about how her “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl” is in modeled on William Trevor’s Three People:

    “I have chosen this story because a Trevor story requires rereading, and what can be a better way to reread a story than reading it aloud, savouring each line, each word? Also because of what the story means to me: I loved it and wrote a story to have a conversation with this story, which became the title story of my latest collection, Gold Boy, ­Emerald Girl.”

    Here is Yiyun Li reading the William Trevor Story:

    and here is her story in TNY:

  245. Betsy November 27, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Well done, once again, avataram —
    How did you happen to discover this?

  246. Betsy November 27, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    avataram – Where does the Yiyun Li quote come from?

  247. avataram November 27, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    The Yiyun Li quote comes from the Guardian link in my previous comment – I was searching for the “This Week in Fiction” for her TNY story, but wasnt there a time when TNY diidnt do interviews with authors? Maybe this is from such a time.

    Sorry, I meant to write “was modeled on” rather than “is in modeled on”.

  248. Betsy November 27, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    So sorry – I see that the quote comes from the Guardian.

    We are stuck by the snow today, and I have spent all day with Lorrie Moore, Vladimir Nabokov, Nathan Englander and Raymond Carver. I thought I was all done with these interesting, provoking double stories!

  249. avataram November 28, 2013 at 12:01 am

    Just read the William Trevor and the Yiyun Li stories again. The Trevor story is about three people – father, daughter and a man who hopes to marry the daughter. The Li story is about three people- mother, son and and a girl the mother is trying to get her son to marry. There are gender switches and the location has moved from Ireland to Beijing, China. The parent is in his/her 70s, the kids and their suitors in their late 30s/early 40s.

    But very different stories – apart from these common elements, the stories are entirely different. If Li had not mentioned the connection, I am not sure anyone would have detected it – and I think TNY/its readers didnt make the connection, as the Trevor story was not mentioned in the 2008 issue when Li’s story was published. (I will have to look up the original print issue to confirm). The Guardian recording is from December 2012.

  250. avataram November 28, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    It seems that various other stories in Yiyun Li’s collection are in conversation with different stories of William Trevor. In an interview with The Daily beast, she says that her story “Kindness” was inspired by Trevor’s “Nights in Alexandria”.

    A quote from the interview:

    “She lists Trevor in the acknowledgments of the new book. What draws her to his work? “I like to imagine many of my stories having conversations with his stories (and many stories in the collection were written in that way, with a specific story of Trevor’s in mind).”

    Yiyun Li is an acclaimed writer. I have not read much of her, but she is one of New Yorker’s 20 under 40, has a MacArthur Genius Grant, was/is one of the judges for the National Book Award and two of her stories have been turned into films. Have we been unfair to Okparanta for something many writers from the Iowa Writers Workshop have been doing regularly?

  251. Roger November 28, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    It would be unfair only if Yiyun Li had (a) done a line-by-line mimickry; and (b) refused to acknowledge having done so.

    Yiyun Li is an amazing writer, by the way. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, are outstanding short story collections.

  252. Artsy November 28, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    this discussion distinguished itself by its witch hunting, personal attacks, arrogance, lack of balance, etc. that made me quickly lose respect for it and fail to take it seriously. i came to this blog through a link that directed me here and now that i think back, it might as well have said, “we’re fleecing a sheep at The Mookse and the Gripes, bring your knives.” people just wanted to cook a plagiarism scandal and Okparanta was the proper victim, and that the discussion took all this time doesn’t at all speak to its substance. Okparanta is an amazing writer too, by the way Roger, and Happiness, Like Water is an amazing collection, and maybe you should say she “refused to acknowledge” to your y’all’s arrogant satisfaction because otherwise some of us are perfectly happy and understand what Benji is trying to do even with the strong similarities.

  253. Trevor November 28, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    some of us are perfectly happy and understand what Benji is trying to do even with the strong similarities.

    Artsy, leaving aside everything else you claim here, what is Benji trying to do? I think the answer to this is missing in this thread and would make a lot of people shut up who are otherwise critical of Okparanta.

  254. Mark November 28, 2013 at 9:04 pm


    This long thread has distinguished itself for containing analyses that are exactly the opposite of what you are saying. Betsy’s long, deep, considered line-by-line analysis alone is a master work of investigation that – along with Ethan and many many others here – gives this discussion much needed attention to a writer who has pulled a fast one on any number of people.

    I’m afraid that all you are doing at this point is sounding awfully sour-grapesy and providing a fairly ineffective stomping-foot defense that simply does not parallel the seriousness of what we are all discussing here. Okparanta has done something that (if not outright criminal – I’m sure an attorney would have a field day with this one while he lines his pockets) most certainly smacks of robust obfuscation and post-incident justification when repeatedly handed evidence of a transgression.

    This needs to be discussed. This needs to be addressed by TNY (their revisionism already speaks volumes about an early attempt at covering a shallow grave). This needs to not fall into the crevasse of history. This kind of theft is odious and utterly unfair to the originator – Munro. How in the world can anyone say it is okay to steal another person’s work? It isn’t. Never has been, never will be.

    Arrogant? The only individual who is arrogant here is Okparanta for assuming that because of her place in the society of letters that she can say whatever she damn well pleases and it will be accepted. That’s arrogance.

    I think it’s really wonderful that you’re a fan of Okparanta, but doesn’t add much to the critical discussion that’s been going on here. You can still be a fan of hers while acknowledging some sketchy behavior. Any fan of any number of writers or artists work must also be willing to accept that the artist is also human and can transgress – from Hemingway to Polanski, plenty of people who create art have troubling behavior. But in this case, when analysis is proving out a near copy of artist’s work, what are fans to do? Reassess the piece in question, I suspect.

  255. Archer November 29, 2013 at 1:33 am

    I agree with avataram that “Good Boy, Emerald Girl” is a much more successful example of “homage”. Now that she mentions it, one can see how the William Trevor story served as inspiration, but Li’s work is distinct enough to stand on its own. I find “Benji” a different case. As has been noted, it’s evident Okparanta closely modelled her story on Munro’s, replicating plot points and specific details down to the letter. I think this goes beyond having a “conversation” with “Corrie”. It is essentially a retelling, with certain variations. Some may find this acceptable. Others clearly do not, especially since, without the updated Q&A, it appeared that Okparanta was trying to pass this off as her own creation.

    I find it curious and ironic that defenders of “Benji” have largely refused to engage with the text. I’ve seen critics of the story accused of having a grudge against the author and not understanding the concept of appropriation. I’ve seen it suggested that Munro’s story is not all that original itself. We’ve been called “bullies” and told to “get over it”. But I haven’t seen the kind of line-by-line, sentence-by-sentence analysis of both stories that Betsy and Ethan have gone to the trouble of doing. (I don’t mean to lump all defenders of “Benji” together — Paul Epstein, for one, has kept a civil and measured tone — but this has been the gist of it.)

    This isn’t a witch hunt, and I don’t think anyone has come to these conclusions lightly. If this was all just a giant misunderstanding and we’re completely off-base, it wouldn’t take much for TNY to clarify things. Their silence speaks volumes.

  256. Paul Epsten November 29, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    I’m glad that it’s acknowledged that I have an appropriate tone. I’d like to answer two (perhaps implicit) questions, one of which I may have answered before.

    Why don’t I engage more with the actual text? I don’t have anything to add to Betsy’s analysis which I do find interesting.

    Why don’t I consider the story at issue to be plagiarism? I think this may be largely a cultural stance. I know far more about chess than I do about literature, and indeed am hoping to qualify for the upcoming British Chess Problem Solving Championships. Using as an example, the cultural milieu of chess, with which I am far more familiar, let me cite a typical (and actual) example of plagiarism in chess writing (leaving the names of the authors out of it).

    In commenting on a chess game, one GM writes: “At the most appropriate moment! By driving the knight from f6 the pawn spreads confusion in the black ranks.” Several years later, commenting on the same game, another GM writes: “At the most appropriate moment! By driving the knight from f6 the pawn spreads confusion in the black ranks.”

    As you can see, the latter sentence is copied exactly. We have nothing remotely close to this in the two stories at issue. At worst, we have repeated themes or similar phrases. I would doubt that there is a sequence of more than three words in “Corrie” that is reproduced verbatim in “Benji”, let alone a complete sentence.

    As I’ve said, I’m outside the literary scene, so I wouldn’t challenge any writer who wants to opine about what is or is not acceptable in the short story context.

    I hope I’ve nevertheless said something about my background as someone who’s been involved with competitive chess for almost forty years, and who is familiar with the writings from that culture, which leads me to my own conceptions about what is and what is not plagiarism.

    So, from a personal standpoint, this doesn’t seem like plagiarism to me.

    Paul Epstein

  257. Roger November 29, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Paul E., I don’t think the framework you describe is really what is going on when we read and engage with fiction. It suggests that each of us is a prisoner to the particular “culture” or “background” in which we are grounded, that we are limited to a “personal standpoint” that arises from that culture or background. It also suggests that every such “standpoint” is as valid as another. In other words, there is no generally shared understanding of the meaning of concepts like plagiarism and the kind of behavior it represents, only perspectives that are different and equally valid. I don’t actually think you mean this – after all, you’ve posted many times that Okparanta didn’t engage in plagiarism, without qualifying your opinion as one that is valid from your standpoint only.

    I’d contend that readers come from varying backgrounds and cultures but that when we read and engage with one another as readers, we do so on the basis of some shared general understandings, such as the meaning of individual words and the existence of certain ethical norms, like plagiarism and its dishonesty. The very acts of reading and discussion presuppose a common language. And one of the virtues of reading and discussing fiction is to stretch one’s limits so as not to dwell only in our own respective cultures and backgrounds.

    As for Okparanta, surely she doesn’t avoid responsibility for plagiarism merely by making the cosmetic changes to Munro’s story that have been documented in this thread.

    P.S. – I’m assuming Paul “Epsten” is really Paul Epstein, not an impostor, and that “Epsten” was a typo – not that someone is mimicking the real Paul Epstein!

  258. Roger November 29, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Also, to clarify – I’m not suggesting that we don’t each bring something unique with us when we read and discuss, or that our backgrounds and cultures are irrelevant to those unique perspectives. To the contrary, it’s great to have a variety of points of view on a work of fiction or any other work of art. That’s the whole point of discussion.

    What I am doing is arguing against anarchic relativism on basic terms and principles, including broad ethical principles.

  259. Paul Epstein November 30, 2013 at 5:24 am

    Thanks for your reply, Roger. This is just a note to confirm that “Paul Epsten” is indeed a typo for myself. The “i” on my keyboard sticks. If the moderator is able to correct the typo, I’d be very grateful.

    Paul Epstein

  260. Betsy November 30, 2013 at 11:11 am


    I also want to recognize your consistently even tone.

    One of my concerns is what students will take away from this discussion regarding best practices when making use of another writer’s work.

    I particularly want to emphasize to students and parents that regardless of artists pushiing the envelope, either purposely or foolishly, it is still common practice to expect writers to observe widely accepted guidelines that give “reasonable and appropriate credit” for any kind of idea or form that is appropriated from another person’s work.

    (words quoted are from the Stanford University policy below.)

    Currently, departments and teachers are expected to guide their students in the formats of proper acknowledgment. It is an ethical issue that is generally respected as requiring attention by any writer.

    I would direct parents, students and teachers to the Stanford University Honor Code adopted in 2003. (

    “In order to clarify what is regarded as plagiarism, the Board on Judicial Affairs adopted the following statement on May 22, 2003:

    “?For purposes of the Stanford University Honor Code, plagiarism is defined as the use, without giving reasonable and appropriate credit to or acknowledging the author or source, of another person’s original work, whether such work is made up of code, formulas, ideas, language, research, strategies, writing or other form(s).”

    My long analysis of Okparanta’s writing was not to prove she “plagiarized”.

    It was to establish the extent of her use of Munro’s story. I satisfied myself with a careful reading of both stories that many, many elements of Munro’s story had been used in the creation of Okparanta’s story.

    If the New Yorker had made clear from the outset that this story was based on Munro’s story, the ethics of the matter would be substantially different. But I would posit that ethics would also require that the New Yorker or the author use the word “extensive” to describe Okparanta’s use of Munro’s story.

    I feel that the situation calls for the kind of formal introspection by the New Yorker that the New York Times has recently installed – that of the position of an ombudsperson who writes regularly on ethical issues raised by the publiation of certain of their own articles.

    Using Stanford’s code, I do not think that the New Yorker gave Chinelo Okparanta the right advice. In my view, “reasonable or appropriate credit” was not given to Alice Munro.

  261. avataram November 30, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    As a Chess aficionado myself, I understand what Paul is saying. In the 4th game of the recent Anand Carlsen world Championship, the first 14 moves were the same as in the game played by Jakovenko-Almasi in 2007. Were the two Grandmasters plagiarizing the moves? Not at all. In the 15th move, Carlsen introduced a novelty and the entire game became different.

    The trouble with Okparanta’s “homage” is that nothing is different – the opening, middle game, end game are the same, even the commentary is the same. Only the players’ names are different.

    I introduced the Yiyun Li-William Trevor issue here only to show, how the content and the writing style is everything in the story, even if explicit mention of the original story is not made – Trevor (of the blog) made the same point. If one compares Yiyun Li as a Grandmaster playing William Trevor’s games, her opening moves maybe similar, but the middle game and endgame are completely different. It is a genuine homage (and Yiyun Li speaks of her debt to William Trevor in every interview).

    I was giving Okparanta points for an original excuse. Now it looks like she has copied the story from Alice Munro, and copied the excuse from Yiyun Li. Nothing original about her at all.

  262. Paul Epstein November 30, 2013 at 4:59 pm


    I don’t think you understand my chess reference. (I’ll blame myself as the poster, not you as the reader). Yes, chess players are allowed to copy moves that they’ve seen before.
    However, my point was the far less obvious one, that chess _writers_ seem to be given far more latitude to be unoriginal when they comment on games that have been commented on before.
    For a chess writer to be widely attacked as a plagiarist, the writer has to have copied several sentences verbatim, or nearly verbatim, as per the example I cited earlier.
    I don’t think “Benji” comes close to reproducing sentences or even large parts of sentences from “Corrie”.
    So I made the point (which I hope others found interesting) that the concept of “plagiarism” is regarded differently in different communities of writers.

    In reference to an earlier remark of yours, surely the Benji/Corrie similarities aren’t remotely close enough to anything that could be picked up by a plagiarism checker! Don’t plagiarism checkers look for matches on groups of words? Surely, a plagiarism checker doesn’t know that, for example, in both stories, a parent wrongly gives the child’s age and is corrected.

    I thought that, in context, the reference to mechanical plagiarism checkers was nonsensical.

    Paul Epstein

  263. Betsy December 1, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Paul –

    I think your definition of plagiarism is too narrow. Consider what Stanford University defines it as:

    For purposes of the Stanford University Honor Code, plagiarism is defined as the use, without giving reasonable and appropriate credit to or acknowledging the author or source, of another person’s original work, whether such work is made up of code, formulas, ideas, language, research, strategies, writing or other form(s).”

  264. […] Galchen’s Page Turner interview with Willing Davidson is interesting in light of the discussion we have been pursuing regarding one writer using another writer’s story as a model (here). […]

  265. ethanbaobarker August 18, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    not to dig up the grave, or whatever expression would fit better, but i just saw that Okparantas story, Fairness, from Subtropics, is going to be included in The O. Henry Prize Stories for 2014. Hm…. Thoughts?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.