Disgraced former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair is taking aim at legendary travel writer Jan Morris in an explosive new book, saying Morris faked a sex change operation years ago to boost her sales.
Morris, the author of more than 40 books including travel classics like The World of Venice, Farewell the Trumpets and Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, not to mention a three-volume history of the British Empire, has been lying to her readership for years, Blair said in an exclusive interview with Gadling. She has always been a woman.
“We’re talking about one of the biggest literary hoaxes of all time here,” Blair said.
Blair said he’d been “working this story” for more than two years. “It started like all good stories do, with an overheard rumor. I just ran with it. It hasn’t been easy getting this story.”
Blair is calling a press conference soon to announce the publication of Jan Morris: Inside a Life of Lies (Brave Books). In it, Blair reports that Morris fabricated a 1972 sex change operation in Casablanca, which she later described in her affecting memoir Conundrum, which has been a cornerstone in the cannon of transgender literature for years. Blair spent more than a year in Casablanca retracing Morris’ steps. His conclusion: It is very likely Morris never even went there.
Asked about his sources, Blair said they were “ironclad,” and include doctors and personnel at the hospital where Morris is said to have undergone her sex change.
“Why did she do it? She needed better sales, that’s why,” Blair said.
He said that Morris has always been a woman, despite adopting a nome de plume — James Morris — in her earliest years as a foreign correspondent for The Times of London, a move he says designed to make inroads in a profession dominated by men. “Who would have believed it was a woman reporting from Mt. Everest in 1953?” Blair says. “You remember George Eliot, right? There’s a precedent for women writing as men.”
Blair is perhaps best known as the former New York Times national correspondent who was forced to resign in 2003 amid allegations that he plagiarized and fabricated stories. A subsequent internal Times investigation revealed that 36 of 73 stories Blair wrote for the paper were questionable, with Blair often making up quotes, fabricating datelines and lifting story details from other news sources. The scandal rocked the Gray Lady and brought down Times Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd.
Blair’s memoir of the ordeal, Bringing Down My Masters’ House, was a commercial disappointment.
One of Morris’ publishers, W.W. Norton & Co., has issued a statement calling Blair’s book “a hatchet job.”
Besides lying about the operation, Blair says his book reports that Morris has been “liberal” about the details of many of the trips that she has turned into travel books. “I have several sources, for example, who all collaborate that Morris has never set foot in Trieste,” Blair said.
Morris declined to comment when reached at her home in Wales.