Jumi Bello’s LitHub essay on plagiarism looks very plagiarized

This morning, LitHub published an essay entitled “I plagiarized parts of my debut novel. Here’s why.” The first-person account was written by novelist Jumi Bello and detailed, like her debut publication, The departurescheduled for release on July 12, was canceled by its editor, Riverhead, after learning that portions had been plagiarized.

According to Publisher’s Lunch, which reported the cancellation in February, the book, about “a young black woman struggling with an unexpected pregnancy,” had appeared on “several anticipated lists.” In her essay, Bello claimed she got by because she picked up lines from other authors and lost the book deal in the process.

Bello’s essay explored the origins of plagiarism and her specific experiences with it, which she indirectly linked to a history of mental illness. After a stint in psychiatry and an allergic reaction to an antidepressant, Bello felt pressure to turn in her manuscript: “I just want to get through it, to someplace where I can sleep again. Looking back on that moment, I ignored my instincts. I ignored the inner voice that softly said, This is wrong, wrong, wrong.”

However, the article had been removed by Monday morning. It will now load on an error page.

LitHub did not immediately respond to Gawker’s request for comment, and neither Bello’s website nor her Twitter profile provide contact information. But writer Kristen Arnett, another Riverhead author, noted on Twitter that portions of the text on the etymological origins of plagiarism seemed very similar to other articles on the history of plagiarism.

The removal occurred so shortly after the article was first published that it was not even archived by the WaybackMachine. But in a PDF version of the piece, you can see the similarities. For example, in Bello’s article she writes:

Plagiarism has been with us since the birth of language and art. For as long as there have been words to read, there has been someone to copy the passages. It dates back to AD 8 when the poet Martial caught another poet Fidentinus reciting his work. He named Fidentinus a plagiarismwhich means “kidnapper”.

Contrast that with this 2011 article in Plagiarism Today entitled “The World’s First ‘Plagiarism’ Case”.

Plagiarism, the act of taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own, has almost certainly been around since the dawn of art and written language. For as long as there has been art and artists, there have been people who misname themselves.

But while the act of plagiarism is as old as time, the word “plagiarism” is not. The etymology of the word plagiarism is interesting and its history actually dates back to the first century AD and concerns a Roman poet and his literary ‘captors’ who became the subject of a literary caning.

Or look at another execution from the plagiarism detection site Turnitin. Her 2019 blog, 5 Historical Moments That Shaped Plagiarism, begins like this:

Plagiarism has almost certainly been with us since the dawn of language and art. Ever since there have been words to repeat and art to copy, it’s obvious someone did.

And later:

In one of those verses, Martial referred to Fidentinus as “Plagiarus,” essentially calling him a kidnapper.

To be fair to Bello, the Turnitin lede sure sounds a lot like it plagiarism today‘s play, written eight years earlier. But I think plagiarism has been with us since the birth of language and art, and ever since there have been words to read there has been someone copying the passages.

Update, 2 p.m.: After this article was first published, LitHub issued a disclaimer. They had the “very personal essay” removed because of “inconsistencies in the story and, crucially, another incident of plagiarism in the published play.” So there you have it. LitHub did not specify what the exact “inconsistencies” were. But if you do, drop us a line at [email protected].

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