Today, PEN Center USA pulled John Smelcer's Stealing Indians from the short list of young-adult novels nominated for a 2017 Literary Award. The news comes five days after The Stranger published this report on John Smelcer, and three days after the Los Angeles Times added new information to the story with reporting of their own.
As The Stranger uncovered, Smelcer had fabricated a literary agent named Johnny Savage from whole cloth, using a photo of an actor from The Vampire Diaries and Lost. He also allegedly fabricated a blurb from Norman Mailer, according to Mailer's biographer. His claim to Native heritage has been questioned by critics for years.
On Friday, the L.A. Times reported that an introduction to one of Smelcer's books attributed to the Dalai Lama was not written by the Dalai Lama. The Times also attempted to authenticate a document that appears on Smelcer's website, ostensibly showing that he is "1/4 Alaska Native," and found that the signatory on the Ahtna shareholder's document says "she never signed it."
Meanwhile, new details have emerged about Smelcer's past.
The information in The Stranger's story about a forged letter from The New Yorker that turned up in 1994 when the University of Alaska Anchorage was looking into Smelcer's credentials came from the Daily Sitka Sentinel, which was republishing a story from Anchorage Daily News.
The reporter on that 1994 Daily News story, Robert Meyerowitz, talked to The Stranger after our story appeared and shared more reporting that we hadn't seen. According to his reporting in the Anchorage Daily News, Smelcer "was convicted of second-degree forgery in Fairbanks" in 1983.
Smelcer spent "60 days in jail and four years' probation" after forging, along with a companion, "44 checks drawn on several different banks from seven separate accounts, for a total of about $600." Smelcer was 20 years old at the time.
Smelcer's lawyer in 1994, Dick Sutliff, is quoted in Meyerowitz's reporting saying Smelcer's "judgment was later set aside because he was a youthful offender with no prior convictions." At the time, Sutliff called attention to the fact of Smelcer's convictions "unfair."
Meyerowitz also told The Stranger that it was not true that he set out with an agenda against Smelcer, as Smelcer has indicated. "I set out to do a story that I thought was about how the university faculty was resisting an affirmative action hire, then I got a tip that he wasn't Native," Meyerowitz recalled.
Smelcer still claims on his website that Meyerowitz was a "scurrilous newspaper reporter" and a "former student" of a University of Alaska Anchorage professor who "convinced" him "that he should run with the story and that the angle should be that I had perpetrated a fraud."
Meyerowitz told The Stranger that was not true, and that he had never attended University of Alaska Anchorage. He did serve as a visiting professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks later in life.
Smelcer did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Meyerowitz or the forgery conviction. As for PEN, a representative said the organization had no further comment beyond today's announcement:
PEN Center USA has withdrawn John Smelcer's STEALING INDIANS from the list of finalists for the 2017 Literary Award for YA.
— PEN Center USA (@penusa) August 28, 2017