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Jill Bialosky, Poet and Editor, Faces Plagiarism Accusations

The academy’s page says: “Born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson came from a long line of prominent lighthouse engineers. During his boyhood, he spent holidays with his maternal grandfather … Prone to illness, Stevenson spent many of his early winters in bed, entertained only by … love of reading, especially William Shakespeare … and ‘The Arabian Nights.’”

Ms. Bialosky wrote: “Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on November 13, 1850. He came from a family of lighthouse engineers. During his boyhood he was prone to illness and spent many of his childhood winters in bed, entertained by reading Shakespeare and The Arabian Nights.”

After seeing that, Mr. Logan said, he checked entries on other poets.

In the memoir, which was published in August, Ms. Bialosky uses 51 poems — all of which have influenced her, she says — to punctuate chapters about her most pivotal life experiences, such as her father’s death.

In a statement on Thursday, Ms. Bialosky, 60, said: “William Logan has extracted a few ancillary and limited phrases from my 222-page memoir that inadvertently include fragments of prior common biographical sources and tropes after a multiyear writing process. This should not distract from the thesis of this book, which derives from my own life, my experiences and observations. I will, of course, correct any errors that are found for future editions of the book.”

At W. W. Norton, an independent publisher, Ms. Bialosky is a vice president and executive editor, overseeing the company’s large and well-regarded trade poetry catalog, publishing such established poets as Rita Dove, Adrienne Rich and Marie Howe, along with younger poets including Major Jackson, Adam Fitzgerald and Meghan O’Rourke.

Aside from her own literary contributions, she also edits fiction and is the author of a New York Times best-selling memoir about her sister’s suicide.

“Jill Bialosky is a trusted, longtime colleague and editor who has always done an outstanding job with her list of trade books at Norton,” John Glusman, the editor in chief at W. W. Norton, said in a statement Thursday. “For more than two decades, she has acquired and edited works by some of our most esteemed literary authors.”

Peter Borland, the editor in chief at Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster which published “Poetry Will Save Your Life,” did not respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment.

Of the eight instances that Mr. Logan flagged in his review, one in particular stands out for its similarities.

Her section about the poet Robert Lowell reads: “Although Lowell’s manic depression was a great burden for him and his family, the exploration of mental illness in his verse led to some of his most important poetry, particularly as it manifested itself in Life Studies. When he was fifty, Lowell began taking lithium to treat his mental illness.”

The Wikipedia page for Mr. Lowell states: “Although Lowell’s manic depression was often a great burden (for himself and his family), the subject of that mental illness led to some of his most important poetry, particularly as it manifested itself in his book Life Studies. When he was fifty, Lowell began taking lithium to treat his mental illness.”


The Wikipedia entry is 51 words; Ms. Bialosky’s is 50 words. Only a few other differences — “him” instead of “himself” — are seen.

On Wednesday Mr. Logan said, “Her borrowing seemed limited to three sites generally at the top of Google searches, though I later found a parallel passage in one of Helen Vendler’s books.”

Allegations of plagiarism are not uncommon; they have been leveled at authors across genres for years.

Historians like Stephen E. Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin have been accused of copying passages. Bob Dylan has come under fire from critics who believe he borrowed material for song lyrics, passages of his memoir and his Nobel lecture. And this year, HarperCollins withdrew the digital edition of a book by Monica Crowley, who had been picked to serve in a high-profile post on President Trump’s National Security Council, after evidence of plagiarism in it emerged.

Chris Harrick, a vice president at Turnitin, an academic integrity company that helps educators detect plagiarism, reviewed some of the passages of Ms. Bialosky’s work that Mr. Logan flagged, and called the writing “problematic” and “certainly unoriginal.”

There are different types of plagiarism, he said. And although the memoir writer does not appear to identically clone entire passages, he said, she does appear to crib sentences and add slight edits — the kind of find-and-replace plagiarism more common among sophisticated, professional writers.

“The chance of me and you sitting down, writing on the same subject and writing the same 10 words down is infinitesimal,” he said.

In a review of “Poetry Will Save Your Life” in August, The New York Times Book Review dinged the premise of Ms. Bialosky’s memoir. “The notion that generates such an anthology-memoir, the idea that poems must be filtered through a scrim of ordinary language and life in order for us to commune with them, in order that they be ‘understood’ in some definite way, is wrongheaded and, indeed, condescending,” Simone White wrote.

The Poetry Society of America honored Ms. Bialosky in 2014 for her distinguished contribution to the field of poetry. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Magazine and other publications.

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