Thomas Jay: travesty of American justice or brilliant viral marketing?

Thomas Jay: travesty of American justice or brilliant viral marketing?

LUCCA, 18 March – Suspend belief for a minute, and imagine that the following email plea with its incredible story has arrived in your inbox:

Thomas Jay, pseudonym of Stefano Lorenzini  (born Arezzo, 5 March 1957), is an Italo-American cult writer whose books have been published all over the world.

His fame, apart from his books, is linked to his personal story that saw him placed in detention at the age of 12 years for minor crimes and subsequently condemned to life imprisonment for repeated escape attempts according to a law known as the Three Strikes Law.

Still in jail today, the writer is at the centre of a vast movement that is working to obtain his liberation. Your support represents an important contribution to spread his story”.

The email is signed Giovanna Galeassi, President of the Italian committee to Free Thomas Jay and has a link to a website where the whole tragic story of Stefano Lorenzini aka Thomas Jay is laid bare. There are biographical details, such as the fact that Lorenzini was abandoned twice by his mother and raised by a grandmother in Tuscany. A life of petty crime in New York and stints in jail followed the death of his grandmother, before he was eventually incarcerated for life thanks to the notorious Three Strikes Law. Notwithstanding his life imprisonment however, Jay ‘published’ several novels, with titles such as “Peggy Mills”, “Climbing Clive”, “Perigot”, the arty covers of which are also included.

Most convincing is the video plea (see below) with his literary agent Aaron Farrell and his wife Ailie Clementi, his supposed biographer Ilaria Bandini, author of “Thomas Jay. Forgotten genius” (who delivers a convincing interview while breastfeeding) and Giovanna Galeassi herself. The video includes clips from family films showing the infant Lorenzini and stills of newspapers showing the unmasking of the real identity of Thomas Jay in the late 1990s. The website alludes to the fact that Fazi Editore has announced it will publish Thomas Jay’s complete works in Italy. The Free Thomas Jay campaign is complete with a Facebook page and twitter address, not to mention a 10-page extract of his autobiography.

An incredible story, a convincing supporting cast. But who is Thomas Jay really?

A quick look through Amazon and other online websites is enough to raise your suspicions. There is no trace of the works of Thomas Jay nor of Stefano Lorenzini, nor Ilaria Bandini. No trace of the agent Samuel Atkins who apparently discovered Lorenzini, not of his advocate Mike Olsen (surely this would be a case no American lawyer would fail to promote at every occasion). And then there is the website, entirely in Italian. If this is a campaign promoted by his American wife for Thomas Jay’s liberation under the American justice system, where is the English version?

A telephone call to Fazi Editore confirms that Free Thomas Jay is actually the first piece of a viral marketing campaign for a book that is to be released at the end of the month. Although knowing that Thomas Jay doesn’t exist clearly changes how the email and video are viewed, the campaign is a testament to the depth and skill (and production budgets) of today’s viral marketers. It also begs the question: is this how Italy’s budding literary talents are finding paid employment these days?

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