This came about as a result of my bluff being called by Jared Kuritz, Director of the La Jolla Writers Conference.
James Frey had originally been slated for the keynote. Frey gained infamy when his ostensible memoir A Million Little Pieces was exposed as almost entire fabrication — after he had gained the Oprah Seal of Approval and been on her show to tout his own writerly sensitivity. Frey later claimed to have knuckled under to pressure from his publisher and agent, and as it was his first published book and he was on uncertain ground, he went along with it.
Perhaps that’s true, but there had to have been a point (more likely dozens of points) where Frey realized he was going to have to pile lie upon lie to make this work, and anyone with an ounce of integrity (or at least some kind of admirable quality) would have copped to it, apologized, and moved on. Instead Frey lied until it was irrevocably proven that he made it all up, and then his response was to say, But they made me do it!
In any case Frey not only studiously avoided many opportunities to become a vertebrate, he essentially made a career out of crying mea culpa and then exploiting that very exploitation. I had a real problem with this and basically told Jared that I intended to walk out of Frey’s speech (I didn’t tell him that I was also going to do my best to get a lot of people to walk out on it as well.)
Then I saw that Frey was teaching a course at LJWC on generating controversy as a PR device. I went ballistic. I called Jared. How the hell can you have this charlatan teaching your students? What kind of light do you want to shed on the rest of the hardworking teachers who bust their ass to bring you a solid curriculum? Jared just laughed and said, “I’m pretty sure he’s gonna flake. I’ll give you the keynote when he does.”
Riiight. You’re on, I say. Safe bet, right? Then Frey flakes. (And this is before this week’s wholly justified pillorying and comeuppance regarding Frey’s Draconian story mill.)
So I scrambled to add another class and the keynote to my LJWC schedule. And because the students at LJWC are really good, and generally well along in their abilities — they got chops, folks — I wanted to avoid the platitudinous cheerleading speeches I usually hear and talk about stuff I wish I’d known when I was first starting out.
The result was “Myopia” — hardly my first speech, but my first keynote speech. I was (and remain) pleasantly startled by the reaction to it. One of the best compliments I’ve ever received was from conference organizer Antoinette Kuritz, who said to me (you can hear it at the tail end of the recording) that she wanted to send Frey a copy of the speech and thank him for canceling.
So thank you, Jared, for calling my bluff. And thank you, James Frey, for flaking.[audio: http://www.steveboy.com/audio/boyett_-_myopia_(ljwc_2010_keynote).mp3]
Download: Myopia (LJWC 2010 Keynote Speech) [27:45]