Nasdijj: Consult the Hyena

Two weeks ago, we felt really proud that we managed to avoid adding to the media’s repititive over-coverage of the James Frey memoir-hoax story. We figured we’d serve the literary community by talking about anything but James Frey (or J. T. Leroy), and that’s what we did. Imagine our surprise at the new expose of acclaimed Navajo author Nasdijj, which brings the hoax craze into our backyard.

Nasdijj started participating in LitKicks discussions last July, first showing up to respond to a weekly critique of the New York Times Book Review with a post titled “yawn, indeed“. I think we were all glad to see him here and certainly tried to make him feel welcome, but I was slightly peeved when I wrote an article about a favorite book of mine, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, only to have Nasdijj slam me and Charles Frazier in a message that seemed to me more inflammatory than rational.

For the next few weeks, Nasdijj would drop in on conversations and, whatever the original topic was, tie it back to his key themes: white oppression of native Americans, the tragedy of AIDS and the corrupted state of corporate publishing. I’m naturally sympathetic to all these causes, but I also have a litblog to run, and I occasionally sent Nasdijj private or public messages asking him to please try harder to stay on topic. He was clearly a talented writer and a deeply driven soul, and I was hoping we could find some way for him to participate on LitKicks without stomping over discussions that weren’t meant to be about native Americans, AIDS or the corrupted state of corporate publishing. Finally, he stopped showing up, but kept me on his email list, and we exchanged a few halfway-friendly messages late last year.

I sent him an email last night asking if he had a response to the accusations that he is not a native-American at all, and that his critically-acclaimed memoirs should be categorized as literary hoaxes. The email (the same one he’s used for the last year) bounced; the account is apparently closed. He left this message on his blog: "For those seeking Refuge consult the Hyena. Follow those directions to the Old Hotel. To find N, take the stairs to the roof. Bring your medication. The view is magnificent. And safe. You know who you are. Do not answer questions. Sealed. They do not care about you. You know that. Do not be fooled. Someone will. You will connect. Follow the Hyena’s path."

I’m following, but the hyena’s not talking.

Despite his generally hostile personality, I liked Nasdijj’s writing, and I hope he’s doing well, wherever he is. I understand Nasdijj is also involved in some type of recovery/crisis caregiving for AIDS-stricken children, and mostly I hope the kids are not suffering as a result of the latest news.

36 Responses

  1. NasdijjExperiencing Nasdijj’s

    Experiencing Nasdijj’s posts on Literary Kicks has been very mich like seeing a super model’s true skin-texture in person. Yawn, indeed.

    I don’t think literary hoaxes are much to cry about. Remember the Red Badge of Courage. Worthless? Hoaxes perpetrated by Tim O’Brien worthless? No. It’s just something that makes one say, hmmm…

    It’s just show-biz, baby.

  2. Well …since you brought up
    Well …

    since you brought up this whole hoaxapalooza craze that apparently has just sent everyone into a tizzy… I kind of agree with Nasdijj’s line, too. So what if x isn’t y or Nasdijj isn’t Nasdijj or isn’t JT Leroy or IS James Frey or never really was a drug addict Navajo Samuel Clemens? So what if George Sand wasn’t even a dude? I find it odd that it’s becoming such a scandal when these scenarios seem to be something the literary community sort of precipitates and very much seems to want and ask for in writers, publishing and life in general. Why is it so surprising that, in a business seemingly devoted to outdoing the last next big thing… the most scintillating outlandish story, this seems to happen every now and then. Apparently more than anyone is comfortable with. What is the line between fiction and non-fiction … between memoir and make-believe? Who knows. But we do want everyone to get right down to being more unique and more pomotransgressiveneoreal. In this age of the internet (not to be confused with the age of Aquarius, mind you), how much of what we present or represent is completely forthcoming? And this is such a scandal? As Nell Carter once said, “Gimme a break”. (disclaimer: not you, naturally, but in general)

    Regardless of Nasdijj’s (or James Frey, or JT Leroy or Jamelah or Joyce Carol Oates) “true” identity, experiences or marketing plan, it seems like he was/is a pretty talented writer who could craft an engaging, provoking and desirable piece of writing. Although I’m sure Nasdijj is probably having a rough go of it right now with accusations or what have you, I kind of like to think that this is just another example of his way of making a point about the media and publishing in general. Got ya. Now watch ’em squirm.

    As John Lovitz once said… “ACTING!”

    Now, let’s talk about some heavy literary news, like, say, Kate Moss’ upcoming autobiography. Oh yeah, baby! That’s a scandal waiting to happen.

  3. a hell of a thingDoesn’t the
    a hell of a thing

    Doesn’t the hyena represent the trickster in folklore?

    I do hope Nasdijj is really helping kids with AIDS. I see my comment on the link, make him feel welcome, and sure, it makes me feel a bit silly after reading Matthew Fleisher’s comments in the LA Weekly about the sexualized photo of a teenager (his anus – gross!), but I’ve got to withhold judgement in light of the fact that one of my heroes is currently being challenged.

    Stetson Kennedy, whom I have interviewed and written about, is being accused by some people of exaggerating his claims. My only beef with this article is that it waits until the end to quote anyone on Stetson’s side of the debate. If you are going to read the article, please read it all; it’s only fair.

  4. But, FC, you surely don’t
    But, FC, you surely don’t suggest we succumb to total literary anarchy?

  5. ruminations on
    ruminations on untruths

    Despite his message’s eerie similarities to an episode of The Simpsons with Johnny Cash as the voice of the wise old fox (hyena), I think it was a good move. If he was dragged into this controversy, like so many other authors have been, his work might be cheated. And by work I do not mean his writing, but his seemingly altruistic work with unfortunate children (which I hope is true). People question you more for doing something truly good than anything else, and this can become aggravating which in turn could lead to an inflammatory nature.

    Now after reading that piece of intense investigative journalism, I have no idea what to think. So without passing any direct judgement on Nasdijj, who though a bit militant and pessimistic, did seem to be out for the greater good; the first few things that passed through my mind were:

    I’d really prefer it if memoirs were not investigated to the last detail.

    The second was (right on the heels of Frey and everyone else), lots of people pull stunts like this for publicity, as no doubt book sales go up because of an article like this (all publicity is good publicity).

    What I hope for most though, is that the next big literary in-child is not fake memoirs accompanied by award winning investigative journalistic articles refuting every aspect of the piece. Jesus. I would rather have poorly written accounts of attractive professors tracking down ancient mysteries in modern day Paris, though I fear there is plenty of room for magazine articles (free press) about that too.

    What is your favorite memoir based in fiction?

    My nominee: DAN YACK by Blaise Cendrars (pseudonym)

  6. Bill — actually you have a
    Bill — actually you have a good and important point in this sentence: “I do hope Nasdijj is really helping kids with AIDS”. Maybe I have been overly credulous — I sure hope somebody over there is looking into the welfare of these boys.

    About Stetson Kennedy, I trust his reputation will be fine. Is it really valid to expose memoir falsehoods in books this old? Who’s next, Proust?

  7. That’s exactly what I’m
    That’s exactly what I’m suggesting! It’s MADNESS!!! Join me on the dark side…

  8. I can’t believe I confused a
    I can’t believe I confused a hyena with a coyote. Damn, maybe I’M the bogus one . . .

    Thanks for your comment on Stetson. The people who are criticizing him haven’t done half of what he’s done. I mean, just look at his life. It pissed me off that the author of Freakonomics caved so readily over someone casting doubts about exactly what Kennedy did or didn’t do.

  9. Kurt Vonnegut said “You are
    Kurt Vonnegut said “You are what you pretend to be”. I do believe, from the evidence I’ve seen, that in Nasdij’s mind he was Navajo. It wasn’t a scheme, but it probably was a delusion. I really don’t know enough about the facts to make any judgement at all, though. I hope everyone involved is okay.

  10. The New NEW Hoax!A Literary
    The New NEW Hoax!

    A Literary Kicks exclusive:

    James Frey is actually J.T. Leroy.

    S/he will delve into all the sordid (and 100% true!) details in his/her forthcoming memoir, “A Million Little Feces.”

    Sigh. And then, again! Sigh.

  11. Point comes down…that the
    Point comes down…

    that the Nasdijj’s, James Frey’s and Norma Khoury’s of the world are laughing (like hyenas) all the way to the bank.

    — Damn, I don’t believe anything anymore! —

    I’d bet that if Nasdijj isn’t WHO he says he is, then it’s probably likely that he doesn’t DO the things he says he does.

    I knew a guy once who told tall tales, very convincingly. Stories of how he worked for the UN and how he personally knew that Vice President Who Couldn’t Spell and he worked out with Mr. Olympia Lee Haney… etc, etc. Everybody pretty much believed him because we gave him the benefit of the doubt. Turns out he was nothing but a narcissistic liar. He was 40 years old and living in the basement of his parents house. As soon as we discovered one lie, we discovered another until eventually his credibility was in the crapper…

    …joined now by the likes of our beloved memoirists.

    They’re all full of crap.

    You know what they say…

    ‘Where there’s smoke there’s fire.’

    (This hyprocrisy is turning me into such a cynic! I’ll stop now.)

  12. NasdijjI just went back and

    I just went back and reread all of Nasdijj’s postings, out of curiosity, and the more I read, the more I felt the lack of ring of truth – not to his rantings – but to his details. For example he wrote this about corporate publishing:

    “They’re AFRAID of two things: innovation, and technology.

    Let me tell you a little story.

    My “next work” had to be offered to Random House. We all agreed it would be called ISLANDS IN THE DREAM. Which was also slated to become a television special. In Islands in the Dream, Nasdijj would be visiting ALL the Indian Nations of North America. All 500 of them. And not only that it was to be a coffee table book with thousands of photographs by Nasdijj. I was once Photography International Foundation’s Executive Director and my photographs have been exhibited all over the planet. We were all two years into this project.

    Then an issue of a book cover came up with GERONIMO’s BONES.

    I did not know this. I was away in Alaska on the Athabaskan reservation trying not to be shot.

    I was sending my material back to Random House on the Internet. With technology these days there is little need to use 35mm unless you want to. I was going to but it’s messy with camping in some of the extremely remote locations. So I went digital.

    I had no idea (no one told me) that I was often sending them material that they’d lose.

    The reality (no one told me this either) was that the publisher was not set up with the sort of computers that could handle the traffic I was sending them. They were afraid to tell me this (I should have known they were cheap and I had more and better computer equipment than they did) until one day while I was sending them my daily gigabytes from Nome, their entire system crashed for the whole company. The reality is that they could not handle ISLANDS IN THE DREAM. Their technology was limited. They had bitten off more than they could chew.

    The technology actually mystified them.”

    You mean to tell me that Random House couldn’t handle his pics? They couldn’t download them and his pics even crashed their system?


    Well, I also Googled ‘Photography International Foundation’ and guess what came up? Absolutely nothing.

    I smell a liar and a cheat – big time.

    I can almost see the Smoking Gun’s next headline:
    Nasdijj: The Man Who Conned Litkickers.

    But… maybe I’m too harsh. Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt?

  13. Nasdjjj@peyote.comI was

    I was entertained by N and his rabble rousing tactics: bitter invective, unforgiving vengence and dedication to exposing hope as the sinister and cruel imposter that it truly is.


    As one who writes so as not to wilt, I can’t help but admire those who denounce the publishing industry only after enjoying the rare favors it reserves for the chosen few.

    I wrote a response to the post by the 8 year old writer, who read literary classics to his dying brother, and scooped up a handful of soil along with his other doomed and dying brothers and sisters to toss upon the tiny grave after his little brother’s tragic death. His bravery appeared unflappable despite the loss of a testicle (please) and impending return of the insidious cancer or of some other AIDS related killer.

    But alas it was not published, probably owing to the tongue in cheek tone and its humorous stance that would have certainly been out of place amidst the lauditory comments regarding his talent and ability to face the GRUESOME
    TRUTH. I was careful to disguise any doubts so as not to insult the sensibilities of an eight year old…I think. If I was eight again I’d have laughed.

    I enjoy your site immensely Levi, and have even learned to write sentences using terms such as “post modern”. Now you’re telling me a hoax is afoot? Nasdjjj not Navajo?

    I am shocked and disillusioned, Levi.

    What’s next?
    Malcolm X not a full blooded black man?

  14. Alright!… sob . . . I admit
    Alright!… sob . . . I admit I was lying about the Baboon in the House! Forgive mae, AHHHH . . .

  15. Be ye human or daemon? It’s
    Be ye human or daemon? It’s talk like that what brings locust, earthquakes, and bad dogs!

  16. Well, Diagnostage, as Malcolm
    Well, Diagnostage, as Malcolm wrote in his autobiography, he wasn’t a full-blooded black man. If I remember correctly, he was once called Detroit Red (do I have that right?) for his light skin and reddish hair.

  17. I’m not sure he really conned
    I’m not sure he really conned anyone here so much, save for the possible diary entry from a child post. Either way, I sort of take everything I read from someone online with a grain of salt and assume there’s at least some degree of sleight of hand. You just never know… maybe I’m not even really me. I could be John Travolta.

  18. Malcolm Little had white
    Malcolm Little had white blood coursing through his veins to the delight of many a southern white who could point to this fact while trying to account for his superior intellect and uncanny ability to articulate his position under tremendous pressure. His televised debate with a black professor of some repute during which he likened the educator to a house broken pet was classic Malcolm.

    To further stray from your original point Levi, I recently read Georgia Mckinley’s short story “The Crime” which has to be the most powerful piece on the psychology of the south I’ve read to date.

  19. If you’re John Travolta, then
    If you’re John Travolta, then I’m Olivia Newton-John, ha.

    But I agree with your point, the internet makes for easy masquerading, and perhaps we’re all guilty of this to a certain degree, but really now, this has gone too far, no?

  20. wah wah wahAround this time
    wah wah wah

    Around this time last year, I was reading Nasdijj’s book The Boy and the Dog are Sleeping because it had been very highly recommended to me and I liked it quite a lot. Excellent rhythmic prose is hard to come by, and I found it in his writing. Several months later he started posting on LitKicks and at first, I thought it was pretty cool to see the name of a writer whose book — published by big-time publishing, no less — I had read and liked posting here. Over time though, I kind of thought he was too much, but then, I think a lot of people on the internet are too much, yet I still play along. That’s part of what the internet is all about.

    So when I read the article exposing him as a fraud, was I SHOCKED and DISILLUSIONED and DISMAYED because I had been CHEATED and LIED TO? No. I wasn’t really surprised, and actually thought that it made things make more sense. It is too bad that it’s all fake, and like others, I hope that he at least did some of the good that he said he was doing (though, honestly, the notion that he was running a home for sick boys always seemed just a little bit creepy to me).

    That said — written, whatever — I’m not crushed and I don’t need to call him a lying bastard or anything. Writers lie. They make stuff up, they create, they rearrange, they erase lines and draw new ones, combine, separate, role play. This is what art is. Granted, things that are completely made up are supposed to be called fiction, but from an entirely theatrical, devil’s-advocate standpoint, I find the idea of inhabiting your character/protagonist to the point that you become that person for the sake of your writing pretty fascinating. This is not to excuse what Nasdijj, James Frey, JT Leroy, et al, have done (because people feel betrayed, dammit, and seriously, I think Oprah’s going to be in therapy for years), but it’s a kind of interesting performance art.

    Or something.

    p.s. By the way, I am Stephen King.

  21. I wasn’t really surprised,
    I wasn’t really surprised, and actually thought that it made things make more sense.

    You know, this was exactly my thought. It makes sense.

    I also think your comment about the creepiness also is apt.

  22. I’m sorry, it’s just that I
    I’m sorry, it’s just that I wanted to try writing a memoir as an Arab girl.

  23. Hey, Jamelah, that’s a good
    Hey, Jamelah, that’s a good analogy because you sort of are but someone could argue that you’re not.

    I think I might have some Druid in me. Stonehenge always brings up deja vu.

  24. updateJust thought I’d send

    Just thought I’d send an update: Nasdijj is back online. “And the real scandal is …”

  25. A Coyote’s Tale?I just spent
    A Coyote’s Tale?

    I just spent the last semester studying modern Native American Literature, and part of what we studied, was other cultures taking from Native American culture. And Coyote can be quite a trickster in many of the stories, but he is also smart. So this is, erm, interesting. If Nasdijj really is not Nasdijj, then couldn’t he have just said who he was, and said that his stories were fiction? Well, I don’t know, maybe some of the stories were true. I really wonder if this is what it takes for one’s voice to be heard or to be published these days. A publicity stunt? I hope not, I hope it’s not just talent, but also honesty, is what should be involved, to get published, but, that’s just my thoughts.

  26. That is certainly a lot of
    That is certainly a lot of vitriol for one person. Here is the thing though, if one lies or misleads, then how could one ever expect other people to be honest? If this guy, whoever he really is, wants change, or to write about treating Indian Children with AIDS, then why doesn’t he just write about the experience as it truly is for him, and not as a pseudo Indian? One can only hope that at the very least he is actually working with AIDS patients in some capacity.

    Perhaps Roland Barthes was right and the author is dead…or rather authorship is dead and the audience alone gives meaning to a text. Although if that were absolutely true…shouldn’t the reader then give equal weight to a text like “The Education of Little Tree”, written by a racist white man posing as an Indian, and texts like any of Nasdijj’s writings, if they were in fact written by an Indian (which they weren’t as we know now). Whew…hope that last bit makes some sort of sense, basically this reader is arguing that yes, who the author is as a person influences the meaning of a text.

    Well this reader has decided that Nasdijj’s text, that’s right, all of it, is meaningless. This reader doesn’t need another blighted soul’s repetitious invectives on the plight of Indians (and all Racial Minorities, and the Poor) in this country, because this reader fully sympathizes with their struggle, and this reader’s soul is as fully dark with the pain of other’s suffering as it can be without exploding, or imploding as it were. This reader grew up a mile from Indian Island, in Old Town, Maine, a stereotypically depressed reservation with your requisite alcohol abuse, your lack of “education” or traditional schooling, your fading cultural values as we motor-scoot into the techno future. And yet here we are together, your Indians, your Black Americans, your Mexicans, your Somalians, your Whites, your Poor and Rich of Every Color. Admittedly, there is still, as Emerson once noted, “complicity, races feeding off other races”. There is the ignorance, the rank ignorance of racism, as fully pungent as the once mighty Penobscot that flows between Us and Them, a river made rank by the mills downstream, a river that bears no edible fish, fish that once sustained both Native Americans and Immigrants in Maine and elsewhere.

    To hold out a hand, or accept a hand, as a helper, a receiver, or merely a fellow human brother or sister, it seems that one should be figuratively naked. No masks are needed, no pseudonyms or trickery as for instance the type that Nasdijj seems to think is necessary. If Nasdijj were ever to decide to tell the real story of what he is doing, this reader would fully love to read it.

    I apologize if this sounds preachy, but I just really love reading, and it seems that somehow there has to be honesty, I don’t even care if the prose is bad, as mine certainly is. And I don’t mean factual honesty, for instance we all know that Hunter Thompson wasn’t always factually honest, but what he wrote was honest…if that makes sense. Nasdijj sounds like a truly angry, maybe unhappy, person, and I wish he would have the courage to write about his feelings honestly as he really is, because I would listen and I know a whole lot of other people would too. I feel cheated a bit by Nasdijj, yes…it matters it matters it matters.

  27. I would like to single out
    I would like to single out one issue that Nasdijj speaks of. The high cost of medicine is wrong. I understand that it costs labs and researchers a lot of money to develop some of these drugs, but I can’t help but think they also use the fact that other human beings NEED these medicines to jack up the prices to a shameful level. Old people, poor people, and minorities are abandoned, like the lower classes in the bottom of the Titanic that were left to die while the rich people took all the lifeboats.

  28. You know, I read about 3 or 4
    You know, I read about 3 or 4 paragraphs and got bored out of my skull.

    ‘Yer all a bunch a goddamn phonies!’

  29. I agree wholeheartedly with
    I agree wholeheartedly with your take and yes, “why is it so surprising…”

    The sad thing to me about this whole Truth vs. Lies is the fact that sometimes we experience things in our heads and not in “reality” and that becomes our reality…so what is the big deal? What is the big deal is that we that venerate, raise up on pedestals, and bow before our literary heros and then gather like a pack of slavering dogs when they fall from their fragile heights, gleeful at the downfall and oh so ready to have a piece of their bones.

    I may write a memoir, embellish my persona, make my fantasies my realities but I would hesitate to publish them for aren’t we (the big assed WE) a hypocritical species, ready to transect every word, every experience as real or unreal.

    Frankly, if we can write and write well, we are bound to be liars and if we are not, we are mundane and boring.

    Right now, I would like to have a smack-down with Oprah…

  30. Laughing all the way to…The
    Laughing all the way to…

    The hyena is a perfect anology for what has been wrought.

    We are what is our nature to be.

    I am laughing too.

  31. He had issues for sure.
    He had issues for sure. Sometimes it is better albeit harder to change our nature yes?

  32. But..but…but….Isn’t

    Isn’t “Nasdijj” just exploiting the Native American in exactly the same way as other white Americans by making a lot of money and winning awards claiming to be an Indian?

  33. I became a Nasdijj groupie several months before the hoax exposes appeared, on the basis of his web site about Refuge House in Mexico. As soon as they did so, the web site disappeared. But the blog for us dozen or so friends continued for awhile, with news of life at the home that strained credulity more and more. He said that he took the web pages down to protect the boys, which is what he always said when pressed for details or concrete evidence. Another explanation for the mysteriously haphazard and fragmentary nature of the site was that it was essentially run by the boys themselves, who (especially given their emotional problems) tend to start projects that they never complete.

    I think that he took it down because of possible criminal prosecution for soliciting or receiving money under false pretenses, if the truth came out that Refuge House in Mexico was as imaginary as his writings. But to his credit, I don’t think that defrauding people financially was part of his motives at all. I don’t recall his ever begging for contributions. People just sent him checks or gifts from time to time on their own initiative, after being moved by what they saw and read.

    I would guess that Mr. Barrus is narcissistic and therefore best kept at arm’s length. But part of me still loves him nevertheless. His empathy for disadvantaged and misunderstood kids rings absolutely true.

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!