In a scandle involving a veteran member of the Bucks County Writers Workshop, the Banner has learned that an unknown short story penned by the once prominent writer Stuart Cummings Ripley was stolen and successfully entered into a literary contest. In his written confession to the BCWW, Chris Bauer confirms that he plagiarized his award-winning story "January's Disregard," which won the top prize in the workshop's 2004 Summer Writing Contest. Entrants wrote in the style of the celebrated O. Henry story "Marry Month of May." All of the submissions are posted on the currently moribund online magazine Errata No. 7.
Bauer's entry won over submissions by eighteen other members. The judge was former BCWW member Damian McNicholl, author of A Son Called Gabriel (CDS Books). McNicholl called the first-place story "astonishing." Bauer's winning story was announced on July 13, 2004, during a dinner at B. Maxwell's Victorian Pub in Doylestown, PA. Runners up were Jackie Callin and Carmen Ferreiro. Alan Shils won an honorable mention.
But according to Bauer, "January's Disregard" was actually written by Ripley, born in Ohio but who spent his final years on a remote farm in Tinicum Township, Bucks County, PA. Ripley was an intimate of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Lawrence of Arabia, and a lover of Tokyo Rose.
Ripley in the fifth grade
Unfortunately, the actual situation regarding the plagiarism is more complicated.
Bauer revealed to the Banner he was doing volunteer work at the Bucks County Sanitorium, where another unheralded, lesser writer, Knute Isinglass, was an inmate. Isinglass claimed to have had a journalism background; although up to now his sole known publishing credit deals with Ripley's defiant appearance before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee in 1962. As Bauer surreptitiously leafed through Isinglass's papers, he discovered some writing of fiction that Bauer "thought was quite charming." One of the stories in the minuscule Isinglass archive (primarily letters to his lawyer) was "January's Disregard."
Bucks County Sanitorium
Bauer says, "Since Knute was already on his way down the slippery slope into senility, and I needed a submission, I figured, hey, what the f--k. It wasn't like Knute would ever know about it in his condition, right? Hell, in Knute's confused world view he was pretty sure JFK was the best two-term president we'd ever had. So I did it. I submitted 'January's Disregard' to the contest as my own work, and it went on to win with my name attached."
Here's where the situation becomes murky.
"It gets embarrassingly worse," Bauer told the Banner. "It turns out it wasn't Knute's work either! A few days before his death, Knute confided that he had one regret. That he had made no effort to publish 'January's Disregard' under his name or any other's. Knute loved gore and quirky, sick little pieces, so 'J.D.' didn't fit the bill; however, Knute knew the story was too outstanding and too literary to remain unpublished. But unpublished it remained. It was then Knute revealed to me he had lifted the story from the desk of Stuart Cummings Ripley, himself ailing and indisposed, as Knute rifled through Ripley's files. Knute, a fan of Ripley's who had stalked the great author for many months, had broken in through a back window."
Bauer learned from Isinglass that Ripley's story was scheduled to be published in 1962 in the now defunct New York Paradox magazine on what would have been O. Henry's 100th birthday.
For an unexplained reason, Ripley withdrew his submission and stuffed it into a drawer, from which Isinglass filched it.
Bauer has pleaded with the BCWW, which maintains the definitive Stuart Cummings Ripley website, for "permission to correct my plagiaristic abomination by assigning Mr. Ripley's name as author when I publish it in crappy shorts, thereby returning this genius to his place among America's literary greats, this time as a short story writer."
While apologetic, Bauer also remains defiant. "I have no intention of falling on my sword re this poor judgment on my part when publishing 'J.D.' in the crappy shorts collection," he told the Banner. "Just a simple short bio on Mr. Ripley is all I intend to include, with no mention that there was an earlier literary slight-of-hand of any kind during the BCWW contest."
Bauer as editor
When asked if he planned to resign from the workshop, Bauer replied. "Hell no. They can't survive without me."
Sentiment within the venerable BCWW, founded in 1998, is mixed with some angry members maintaining that Bauer's confession comes too late, and that he be denied permission to credit Ripley as the author or even to publish the story. Others say that Bauer has shown sufficient remorse, that it is only fair to credit Ripley for the story stolen from him, and that publication will help in preserving Ripley's memory. Still others believe the controversy is overblown, and that at the most Bauer should be required to return his lucrative prize money to the BCWW. None of those speaking would consent to be identified.
However, when asked for a comment, BCWW founder Don Swaim, through his spokesman Chris Florentz, released the following statement: "Mr. Bauer's behavior is regrettable; however, the pressure on unheralded writers in a publishing climate in flux is immense. Personally, I would love to see the publication of an unknown story by Stuart Cummings Ripley, and Mr. Bauer's crappy shorts affords this opportunity. Naturally, he should return his prize money to me personally in cash." Mr. Florentz went on to say that the workshop would have no further remarks unless subpoenaed.
Ripley in middle age
In seeking reaction from the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Authors Guild, and the Kutztown University School of Journalism, this reporter was told that no one at any of those entities was familiar with Stuart Cummings Ripley, Knute Isinglass, the BCWW, or Chris Bauer, and would have no comment. However, an expert on moral integrity, Father Ignatius Plutz, formerly of the St. Parasitemia R.C. Church of Doylestown, did have a reaction. "Judge not lest ye be judged," he said. Father Plutz is on indefinite administrative leave and has been assigned to an unknown parish in Idaho.
Meanwhile, landmark status for the Ripley homestead in Uhlerstown, Bucks County, remains on hold. And a move to develop the Ripley site as a theme park has been suspended because of lack of funding.
Ripley Home, Bucks County
When asked why the Ripley website has so little traffic, the webmaster, who declined to be publicly identified, refused to answer, but hinted that there is a possibility it will be turned into a porn site in order to boost the volume of visitors.
Bauer, questioned as to why he titled his ebook anthology series crappy shorts replied, "That will be the charm (or demise) of it, considering rejection is the theme. I'm really a blue-collar guy beneath all of my literary shimmer."
crappy shorts: skid marks and crappy shorts: number 2 (edited and with an introduction by C.G. Bauer) are to be sold as ebooks wherever ebooks are available.