Sunday, November 21, 2010

Naked Came the Stranger

The book Naked Came the Stranger was a literary hoax perpetrated by a number of prominent journalists in 1969. The project was conceived by Mike McGrady of Newsday, who assembled twenty-four journalists to write a deliberately terrible book with a lot of sex, to illustrate the point that popular American literary culture had become mindlessly vulgar.

Mike McGrady, a well-known Newsday columnist, was convinced that popular American literary culture had become so base—with the best-seller lists dominated by the likes of Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann—that even a wretchedly written, literarily vacant work could succeed if enough sex was thrown in. In order to test his theory, McGrady recruited a team of Newsday cohorts to collaborate on a sexually explicit novel with no literary or social value whatsoever. Writing under the pseudonym Penelope Ashe (portrayed by McGrady's sister-in-law for photographs and meetings with publishers), the group wrote the book as a deliberately inconsistent and mediocre hodge-podge, with each chapter written by a different author. Some of the chapters had to be heavily edited, because they were originally too well written.

Fulfilling McGrady's cynical expectations, the book was wildly successful. As sales continued to increase, many of the co-authors felt guilty about the large amounts of money they were earning, and went public. The authors gave their "confession" on The David Frost Show, after being introduced as "Penelope Ashe" and walking out on stage, single file, as the orchestra played the song "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody".

The book eventually spent one week on the New York Times Best-Seller List, although by that time its authorship was common knowledge. It is unclear how much of the book's success was due to its content and how much to publicity about its unusual origin.

Subsequently, McGrady and his collaborators were approached about writing a sequel; they refused. In 1970 McGrady published Stranger Than Naked, or How to Write Dirty Books for Fun and Profit which told the story of the hoax.

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