When Does Plagiarism Play the Rent?

April 28, 2006

During the past week, blogs and writing press have covered various stories concerning plagiarism. Each time I read such a story I think of the musical Rent, which I saw in New York eight years ago. At that time, I didn't know what I do now. If I did, I would not have watched the musical as I never went to the movie. I met Sarah Schulman at Goddard College four years ago. I knew she was a playwright and novelist, with 13 books to her credit. MFA students thought she was tough. What I never knew and what she never discussed—at least with me—was that in 1996 she noticed that Rent “seemed to borrow characters and situations from her novel People in Trouble. In her 1998 book Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America, Schulman lists the similarities between the two works,” wrote Jane Thomas for Slate. By the time Thomas wrote the piece, I had learned the story, primarily from reading Stagestruck. What I don't understand is how I missed the Slate article, which appeared this past November 23. I get an Slate RSS feed. The interview between Thomas and Schulman reveals much about the nature of ideas in 21st Century America. Therefore with “elders” of society playing loose and free with ideas as the case of those raised by Schulman in People in Trouble, it's not surprising that a Harvard student would find herself in a plagiarizing scandal. For an excerpt from Schulman's new novel, The Child which Carroll and Graff will release this year, click this link to Zeek.

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