- A feud between two writers divided social media after it was covered by the New York Times.
- Dawn Dorland and Sonya Larson’s feud started when Dorland posted about secretly donating her kidney.
- Larson wrote a short story about the donation, leaving users asking: ‘Who is the Bad Art Friend?’
Who is the “bad art friend?” is the question underpinning a 10,000-word New York Times piece written by Robert Kolker, which describes a years-long feud between Dawn Dorland and Sonya Larson, two Boston-based writers who met in 2007.
Dorland reportedly saw Larson as a “close friend,” but this wasn’t reciprocated. Larson was part of a friendship group of writers who would regularly communicate through text or email, and called themselves “The Chunky Monkeys.” These messages would later be made public due to litigation between the two, which hinged on Dorland’s belief that Larson had plagiarised her work, while Larson argued she only used Dorland’s experience as inspiration for a short story.
Since Kolker’s story was published on Monday, social media has been ablaze with discussion, with “Bad Art Friend” even trending on Twitter on Tuesday after more than 10,000 tweets were posted about it, examining questions to do with white privilege, performative altruism, bullying, and artistic copyright. Opinions are strongly divided.
Here’s everything you need to know.
The feud started with a kidney donation
Dorland donated her kidney to an anonymous recipient in June 2015. Around this time, she has said she set up a private Facebook group to keep friends and family updated about it. Larson was a member of this group. Following the surgery, Dorland wrote a letter to the recipient of her kidney and posted it in the group.
The following month, Kolker reports that Dorland reached out to Larson because she didn’t react to any of Dorland’s Facebook group posts about the surgery, asking whether she was aware of the donation, seemingly surprised that her fellow writers were not engaging with her story. A tense email exchanged followed, according to Kolker’s piece.
The following year, another user reportedly commented on one of Dorland’s Facebook posts saying that Larson — who he tagged in the comment — had recently written a story about a woman donating a kidney.
Dorland claimed Larson plagiarised her story
Larson’s story, entitled “The Kindest,” is described by Kolker as “a study of the hidden motives of privileged white people.” The protagonist — who, like Larson, is a biracial woman — receives a kidney from a white woman named Rose, who is described as narcissistic, demanding extensive praise for her altruism.
Dorland realized that elements of her letter from the Facebook group appeared in Larson’s story, and the feud took a turn.
—Emma BOOOOlden (@emmabo) October 5, 2021
When Dorland discovered a book festival was distributing Larson’s story, she reportedly hired a lawyer and sent a cease-and-desist letter to Larson. The original story added that Dorland contacted a number of organizations requesting they cut ties with Larson due to her plagiarism claims. Dorland has since said in a statement to Gawker that she only “made a limited set of enquires” to people Larson worked with. The situation soon escalated further when Larson reportedly sued Dorland for defamation and tortious interference.
As part of her lawsuit, Larson was required to submit emails and text messages she sent to “The Chunky Monkeys,” Dorland told The Independent. Dorland then counter-sued on the grounds of copyright violation and emotional distress.
A large proportion of these conversations included Larson and other writers mocking Dorland and her kidney donation and Facebook group, Kolker reports.
Dorland has since told her side of the story
On Thursday, Leah Finnegan, Gawker’s editor in chief, wrote that Dorland had requested “extensive corrections” following two prior pieces published on the controversy.
She reportedly said that it was Larson, not her, who “started” this whole saga and that Larson was the first of the two to retain a lawyer. She said that the “Chunky Monkey” messages were only made public due to litigation Larson initiated.
According to Gawker, Dorland also disputed the claim that she was “unpublished,” among other claims made in Gawker’s articles.
Dorland was not immediately available to comment, while Larson failed to respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Some people supported Larson’s right to publish a story based on Dorland’s experience
“Chunky Monkey” member and “Little Fires Everywhere” author Celeste Ng said in a series of tweets that Dorland has been pitching the story herself for several years.
In a further tweet, she said that Dorland was emailing Larson’s employer to “demand punishment” for her publishing the story. She also said Dorland “chose to subpoena” communication between Larson and “The Chunky Monkeys.” Celeste did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
—Celeste Ng (@pronounced_ing) October 5, 2021
Some were more critical of Larson’s behavior
Some critics took issue with the way Larson and the rest of the “Chunky Monkeys” appeared to speak about Dorland in the messages, with many users dubbing the group “bullies” and “mean girls.”
“It is just hard to see how Larson has any moral standing cred,” author Heidi Moore wrote in one tweet. “She accepted the invitation to a private group, so she was fine with being seen as friendly. She took the private note and made it public.”
In a further tweet, Moore added that Larson is the “bad art friend” because “she stayed in a private FB group to copy and paste Dorland’s posts to her friends.”
Many thought that nobody really came out of the drama well at all
Activist and writer Arnesa Buljušmić-Kustura wrote, “I cannot believe there are people on this app defending either Larson or Dorland.”