You just never know what you’re going to get when an over-5,000 word story from the New York Times goes viral. This morning, media workers everywhere were aghast to read “Who Is the Bad Art Friend?” a classic tale of kidney donation, fiction writing, and white women needing to take up as much space as humanly possible. Even “Little Fires Everywhere” author Celeste Ng is in the mix!
I am now caught up on the kidney discourse and wish I wasn’t
— G. Willow Wilson (@GWillowWilson) October 5, 2021
Here’s the TL:DR: Massachusetts writer Dawn Dorland donated her kidney to someone in need in 2015. Later, one of her fellow writers in a Grub Street workshop, Sonya Larson wrote a story about a woman who donates her kidney. Larson, a woman of color, admitted she was sparked by Dorland’s public discussion of the donation on social media. Dorland, however, felt plagiarized and filed suit. Both women are kind of in the wrong, but also the situation is a little bit ridiculous in general, and it’s hard to know what to take away from a story like this. In the words of one NYT commenter, the kidney story is: “a rare story where I found myself rooting for absolutely no one.”
Queer writer Roxane Gay perhaps summed it up best:
Can we talk about Bad Art Friend? Because wow. Some white women have way too much free time.
— roxane gay (@rgay) October 5, 2021
Too much time and too much money!
It didn’t take long for other writers to pile on. Because we live for an absurd story about ridiculous people.
This is why I make sure I’m very close friends with the people whose lives I mercilessly plagiarize for my art (a charming, bespoke culture-oriented newsletter sent to a very elite roster of readers)
— Jeremy Gordon (@jeremypgordon) October 5, 2021
[Ray Liotta voiceover]: As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to donate a kidney
— Nightmare on Elm Kleet (@MilesKlee) October 5, 2021
What’s funnier: performing “selflessness” or believing there’s such a thing as a selfless act to begin with?
I keep dropping hints of my kidney donation
— Fiona Applebum says #BlockShaunKing 🍎 (@WrittenByHanna) October 5, 2021
honestly if i ever donate a kidney to a stranger that will be all anyone ever hears about….
— Sarah Hagi (@KindaHagi) October 5, 2021
I’m reading the kidney piece and my first thought is this is absolutely nuts. who makes donating a kidney or doing anything lifesaving for someone else about them and constantly posts about it to let people know what they did? that’s not empathy. that’s narcissism!
— Sk(elly)ton Belle, notably not a woman 💀🔮 (@literElly) October 5, 2021
I showed you kidney donation pls respond
— chingy “hole emoji” nea (@TheGayChingy) October 5, 2021
Some users were especially astute, picking up on the fact that Dorland seems to be upset for not getting enough praise for her donation:
I left that conference with this question: Do writers not care about my kidney donation? pic.twitter.com/eKqBcJ8RKv
— allison (@allisongeroi) October 5, 2021
Now we’re all officially obsessed:
“Do writers not care about my kidney donation?” is going to be an intrusive thought going forward
— JP (@jpbrammer) October 5, 2021
Perhaps New Yorker critic Helen Rosner put it best when she termed the story “Kidney Person,” a nod to the recent controversy over Kristen Roupenian’s viral 2017 story “Cat Person.”
Sorry for being sincere on main but I think one of the key elements in the Kidney Person story is the tension between writers who define themselves via their writing, and writers who define themselves via “being a writer”
— Helen Rosner (@hels) October 5, 2021
“kidney person” lol https://t.co/fMmyoXHh6N
— Delia Cai (@delia_cai) October 5, 2021
Let’s face it, we’re all hideous narcissists stealing each others’ life milestones for COPY!
But also, this is very much a story about a white lady being un-self-aware. Classic!
Imagining reading a story about a shitty white lady talking about how wonderful and selfless and unique she is in her selflessness for donating a kidney to a stranger and saying “hey she took that from my life” 🥴
— alyssa, the Ted Lasso enjoyer, (@alyssakeiko) October 5, 2021
ok i read the NYT piece everyone’s talking about today and i’m obsessed with this woman being like “i selflessly donated a kidney to a stranger, where is my praise?!” zero self awareness, we love to see ithttps://t.co/Tdk1ISHPbI pic.twitter.com/09o2aOUxiz
— amy b (@arb) October 5, 2021
Thanks for the laughs, Kidney Person. We needed them.