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The 'greatest literary hoax of all time' remains stranger than fiction

Twenty years after she crafted what some observers have called 'the greatest literary hoax of all time', Laura Albert - the woman behind the JT LeRoy persona - told Donal Lynch how childhood abuse and gender confusion underpinned all her work

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Courtney Love, Geoffrey Knoop, JT LeRoy (Savannah Knoop) and Speedie (Laura Albert) at an after-party during New York Fashion Week 2003.  Photo: Matthew Peyton/Getty

Courtney Love, Geoffrey Knoop, JT LeRoy (Savannah Knoop) and Speedie (Laura Albert) at an after-party during New York Fashion Week 2003. Photo: Matthew Peyton/Getty

Laura Albert at the Sundance Festival in Park City, Utah in 2016. Photo: Jeff Vespa/WireImage.

Laura Albert at the Sundance Festival in Park City, Utah in 2016. Photo: Jeff Vespa/WireImage.

Bono and the Edge were the only two celebs who did not treat her as a 'tiresome hanger on'

Bono and the Edge were the only two celebs who did not treat her as a 'tiresome hanger on'

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Courtney Love, Geoffrey Knoop, JT LeRoy (Savannah Knoop) and Speedie (Laura Albert) at an after-party during New York Fashion Week 2003. Photo: Matthew Peyton/Getty

'To censure an artist for a forgery," Oscar Wilde once wrote "is to confuse an aesthetic with an ethical problem." All art, Wilde insisted, is "to a certain degree a mode of acting, an attempt to realise one's own personality".

Wilde was defending Thomas Chatterton (the teenage poet and forger beloved of Romantic poets), but Oscar's words seem even more apt for the strange tale of Laura Albert - a woman who created what has been described as the greatest literary hoax of our time.

It centred around JT LeRoy, who at the turn of the century was the biggest publishing superstar in America. He looked like a sort of androgynous Andy Warhol and was, as far as anyone knew, a formerly homeless, gender-fluid boy prostitute who had worked with his mother - also a prostitute - at desolate truck stops across Virginia. The story went that he had gotten the book deal which lead to Sarah and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, by faxing his transcripts from a hostel.