Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008

Nasdijj the Not-So-Real Navajo

Growing up in Lansing, Michigan and later becoming the author of gay leather porn and sadomasochistic novels didn't get Timothy Barrus the kind of exposure he desired, so he made up a persona of a Navajo man whose son died of fetal alcohol syndrome and Bam! He became a star — or rather, Nasdijj, his fake alter-ego, became a star.

Barrus' essay, "The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams," ran in the June 1999 issue of Esquire, became a National Magazine Award finalist that year and garnered enough attention to get Houghton Mifflin to make it a book. Barrus went on to publish two more award-winning memoirs, but it wasn't until about seven years later that LA Weekly produced an investigative piece blowing the whistle on Barrus' shady operation. He eventually fessed up, complaining that no one ever took notice of his previous book proposals until he created the downtrodden, destitute Nasdijj.

He told Esquire in 2006: "I never really thought River would ever be printed, much less cause the commotion it did." Still, Barrus' life and personal history does bear some similarity to his character: he claims that at 18 he found an abandoned Chippewa baby and took care of it for three months; his wife, Tina, will not travel anywhere without their dog named Navajo, even going as far as wearing dark sunglasses to pretend Navajo is her seeing-eye dog (her vision is fine). After all that deception, Barrus became as impoverished as the bogus character he so vividly described.

Read an account from a writer whose work Barrus may have copied