In 2003, James Lasdun was teaching on a graduate writing programme in New York. An Iranian student he calls “Nasreen” proved very talented. When she sent him a finished manuscript of her novel two years later, he even recommended her to his agent.
Yet things soon spiralled downhill, as Mr Lasdun describes in Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked. “Nasreen” became convinced he had betrayed her and stolen her ideas. She accused him of having an affair with another student, of plotting against her, even of arranging for someone to rape her. She bad-mouthed him by email to all his employers and sent him messages purporting to be from them. One ended with the improbable words: “Let’s suck cock together! eat your ugly bittersweet and die!”
In the end, Mr Lasdun told Times Higher Education, he became worried that the constant verbal assault would affect his career as well as his mental health, and that he had to create “a document in my defence”.
daAsked whether there was something about the intensity of creative writing courses which can stir up ugly and even violent emotions, Mr Lasdun replied: “The teacher-student relationship is always charged in certain ways, and creative writing deals with very intimate parts of your psyche in a way that an essay on Hegel might not. It’s potentially fraught. I’ve certainly seen people very upset or visibly affected by criticism.”
He remains mystified about “what precipitated the crisis” and reflects that “the only thing which would have protected me was something impossible, not answering her first email and offering to help. She was a student I had encouraged and when she contacted me in a perfect pleasant way I wasn’t inclined to say, ‘Go to hell’. After that, what happened would probably have happened anyway. I can’t really offer any advice. It’s a not guide to avoiding cyber-stalking.”