Turns out Sam Kashner, the Vanity Fair contributing editor currently embroiled in a literary cheating scandal, has been accused of erotic deceit before. During his one-year tenure as a William & Mary English professor, Kashner wrote an ostensibly non-fiction bodice-ripper about sex with undergrads. The campus responded with outrage: Nobody believed Kashner could have tapped that much ass.
Eventually, he admitted he'd made the whole thing up.
"The Professor of Desire" ran in the "First Person" section of GQ in October 2000. The article is not available online, but Gawker intern Jessica Benjestorf found it at the New York Public Library earlier today. In it, Kashner describes William & Mary as a "moral mosh pit" and likens bagging undergrads to "shooting fish in a barrel," a "revenge of the nerds" for geeky teachers. Here's how Kashner describes purported encounters with three different students under the age of 21:
After class that day, one of my students hung back, waiting until everyone left the room. She looked upset. She said, "Professor Kashner, I have something to tell you."
I said, "How can I help you, Sophie?"
She said, "I love it when you read to us. I love your voice. It makes me wetter than all my boyfriends."
She showed up in my office on the top floor of Tucker Hall wearing a leather jacket over her nightgown. When she took off her jacket, the light from the halogen lamp turned her nightgown into a pane of glass. [...] I tried to send her home, but she was eager to talk. She said she was raised as a Baptist and the essay she had written for the class dealt with that, and that ever since she had transferred from a Bible college she just wanted to have a lot of sex.
Her hands moved down my chest, and her breathing grew louder in my ear. Her body practically thrashed against me. I rolled her toward the wall. She said she had never done this before, and her hands went up as if she were about to crawl toward the ceiling, pounding the wall as if searching for some secret passageway. I lifted her sweater a little and saw the tag at the back of her neck: 100% VIRGIN WOOL. With my hand on her stomach, I felt a tremor move through her—it was thrilling and loathsome at the same time. The air had become heavy with sex and all its sorrows.
At the time GQ published the piece, Kashner was married to Nancy Schoenberger—the same marriage that Vogue writer Leslie Camhi wrote about this year. In "The Professor of Desire" Kashner writes that he followed Schoenberger to William & Mary, and that after she achieved tenure, the school offered him a position. Kashner wrote that his affair with 100% VIRGIN WOOL lasted seven months, and ended with WOOL's husband (she married a military man at 17) committing suicide.
"There was a PS," Kashner wrote of the husband's suicide note. "It said that if his family wanted to know what made him do this awful thing, they should blame the professor. My address and phone number were the last things Earl ever wrote."
Contemporary accounts suggest Kashner's essay was immediately recognized as wildly inappropriate wishful thinking. Months later The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Kashner insisted his account was true, even after a former student came forward to say she had indeed been involved with a professor over whom her husband killed himself." One giant caveat, though: The professor wasn't Kashner.
Kashner's colleagues were indignant. One reportedly came to a Kashner book signing "just to dump Kashner books he already owned."
According to a student newspaper at San Diego State, Kashner eventually admitted to English department chair Terry Meyers that "The Professor of Desire" was fiction. By email, Meyers said, "My recollection is that Sam did initially defend the veracity of his story... but I don't have anything beyond my aging memory." Asked about Kashner's new scandal, Meyers declined to comment.
After Kashner's "Professor of Desire" imbroglio, the Kashner-Schoenberger marriage became a staple of campus gossip. A William & Mary contemporary characterized the duo as an "on and off couple." Their complicated relationship apparently extended through the mid-2000s, when Kashner wooed Vogue writer Leslie Camhi while married to and co-writing a book with Schoenberger. Here's video of Kashner and Schoenberger sitting side by side, discussing Furious Love—their book about Liz Taylor and Richard Burton's extramarital affair—on Good Morning America. "They were living in a kind of fish bowl," Kashner says of the downfall of the Taylor-Burton marriage.
Kashner's epic "Professor of Desire" fabulism was, until now, mostly forgotten—even though it occurred in a major national publication under the guise of journalism, the field in which he still works. I guess that's what happened when you had a micro scandal before the mid-2000s: The web record would be so minimal, the world would forget about it. At least, until a new scandal dredged the old heartache back up.
Kashner and Schoenberge did not respond to requests for comment.
[Image by Jim Cooke]