New York Times ‘bad art friend’ story sparks viral debate on social media

A story in The New York Times titled: “Who Is The Bad Art Friend?” has social media divided, with people on both sides of the debate sharing their support for each of the article’s protagonists.

The story, published on Tuesday, tells the saga of two writer acquaintances, Dawn Dorland and Sonya Larson, who became embroiled in a legal battle after Larson failed to acknowledge Dorland’s kidney donation – only to later use the gesture as inspiration for a short story.

In the lengthy article, Dorland recalled how she’d written about her choice to donate a kidney to a stranger, and penned a letter to the individual who would eventually receive the organ, in a private Facebook group.

While she received plenty of support, she failed to hear from Larson, whom she had met eight years earlier during writing workshops, so she reached out to the fellow writer, at which point the women had a brief exchange about the organ donation.

However, Dorland would later learn that Larson had written about a kidney donation, prompting her to confront the fellow writer about the inspiration behind the story. Dorland’s concerns escalated when she realised that her donor letter from the private Facebook group had been used, in part, in Larson’s short story, titled The Kindest.

The story then follows the various legal battles that ensued over the next few years, with Dorland adamant that Larson is guilty of copyright infringement and plagiarism, while Larson accused the fellow writer of harassment, defamation, “tortious interference with business and contractual relations”, and of trying to take credit for the story.

The case recently escalated further when text messages and emails exchanged between Larson and her friends showed her discussing Dorland’s kidney donation as the inspiration for her story, with one text reading: “I think I’m DONE with the kidney story but I feel nervous about sending it out b/c it literally has sentences that I verbatim grabbed from Dawn’s letter on FB. I’ve tried to change it but I can’t seem to – that letter was just too damn good.”

On social media, the predicament, and the actions of each woman, have readers divided, with many expressing support for Larson while others have defended Dorland.

Among those speaking out in defence of Larson has been her friend Celeste Ng, the author of Little Fires Everywhere, who addressed the ongoing feud on Twitter, where she revealed that Dorland had pitched the story to The Times herself, and that she stands by her friend.

“It is a MESS, obviously I’m biased here, but I am deeply relieved people seem to be seeing this. She pitched this piece to the NYT reporter and … I honestly don’t understand why. He reported the truth and it does not make her look good,” she wrote in response to one user.

She later added that she stands by “anything I said in my convos”, noting that “people vent privately to friends because that’s where you let off steam, and that seems appropriate to me”.

“Unless we’re going to say it’s not okay for anyone to be catty ever. Dawn chose to subpoena those messages,” she continued.

In another tweet, Ng, acknowledging that she is only “tangentially involved”, said that the ongoing battle has “eaten my friend’s life, and I think everyone involved in the piece save one person would like it to stop. For everyone’s sake”.

Others said that Larson wouldn’t have been targeted if Dorland hadn’t needed “validation” for donating her kidney, with another person tweeting: “A lot of this could have maybe been avoided if Person One had not needed a lot of external validation that her kidney donation was selfless and kind. It was! You’re good! Just take that one home and sit with it quietly!”

However, there were also those who sided with, and expressed sympathy for, Dorland, with someone else writing: “This story made me sad. All I took from it was a bunch of cliquey, mean writers making fun of an emotionally needy kidney donor and deriding her.”

Although most readers took sides, the story also prompted some to suggest that neither writer is right, while others just found humour in the saga.

“The bad art friend kidney thing is my favourite kind of story because they are both absolute villains,” one person tweeted, while another said: “The only winner in this article is the guy that got the lady’s kidney.”

The Independent has contacted Dorland and Larson for comment.

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