Private: Stolen online short story wins academic awards

Seth Shafer, editor of Pig Iron Malt, won a $1000 prize from Fictionline for his short story “Main Strength” back in the summer of 2001.

Some nine months later, Ung Lee, a Princeton University student,* allegedly ripped off Shafer’s story. He changed some details, renamed the story “Accidents,” and turned it in as his thesis.

An article in The Daily Princetonian summarizes the similaries:

Both Shafer’s “Main Strengths” and Lee’s “Accidents” tell the story of a man who makes money collecting deer from the side of the road and selling them, who in the end collides with a deer himself. Both contain characters named Roy, Rena, Tanya and Bernadette.

In a comparison of the two stories, the Prince found more than 60 identical lines of dialogue, more than 60 identical descriptive narrative sentences and again as many sentences that are phrased only slightly differently between the two texts.

For instance, the second line of “Main Strength” reads, “The largest are heavy, harder to lift than you can imagine.” The third sentence of “Accidents” is exactly the same.

Under Lee’s name, Shafer’s story won $1000 from a contest sponsored by SUNY Stony Brook. Lee also won, at Princeton:

(1) The Samuel Shellabarger $5,000 Creative Thesis Prize;

(2) The Althea B. Clark Reading Prize; and

(3) a nomination for the University’s English Prize

Word has it that no officials from Stony Brook or Princeton have contacted Shafer about the story. Ung Lee, meanwhile, landed a summer teaching gig at Yale.

At least one of the writing professors at CCNY (my program) advises students not to submit to “little-known” online publications, since the quality of the fiction “isn’t very good.”

It’s always seemed to me that excellent writing, online or in print, is excellent writing, period. But maybe that’s only true if Joyce Carol Oates is your thesis advisor.

*I wrote this up in a rush yesterday afternoon, and I missed the fact that Lee is a Princeton student. Now it makes sense that The Princetonian is covering the story.

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