Skip to main content

What the Heck Are All These “Bad Art Friend” and Kidney Memes About?

John Locke angrily pointing at his confused-faced father on ABC's Lost.

If you’ve bee online this week, you’ve probably seen people on Twitter talking about kidneys or being “bad art friends” or protecting your group chats. The twist: all three of those things are connected. In a piece written by Robert Kolker for The New York Times, titled “Who Is The Bad Art Friend?,” we got a deep dive into the battle between Dawn Dorland and Sonya Larson in the Boston-area literary community. The story itself is filled with firsthand accounts of what happened between the two writers, from their time in Boston to now.

But this story has three key elements being talked about online right now, and it is important to explore each of them and what is happening. First, there’s the kidney aspect of it all. Dawn Dorland donated a kidney without a specific recipient in mind—just wanted to donate it to help one of the many people out there who need a kidney and can’t find a suitable donor. And to encourage others to do the same.

But when the people she shared the news with people in her writing community on Facebook, including Larson, and they didn’t seem that excited about the donation and didn’t interact with Dorland’s posts about it, Dorland became confused as to why people didn’t care more about her donation—especially after Larson began getting attention for writing a story involving kidney donation—an her fixation on that gave people the impression that attention was part of the appeal for her.

The next aspect is the “bad art friends” portion. Larson wrote a short story that explored race, addiction, and growth as human beings, and was inspired by Dorland’s story and the letter that she wrote to her kidney recipient. While Dorland was not wrong in assuming her life was the inspiration, including an early draft that used Dorland’s actual letter largely unchanged, Larson went on to completely change it and admit that she was inspired by it and certain phrases within the letter.

But when Dorland contacted Larson about the similarity, she felt Larson insinuated she was being a “bad art friend” for objecting to being used as inspiration. Later, she came to feel that the story was more than just “inspired by” her and that Larson was, in fact, the “bad art friend”—and thus spawned an entire saga of legal action between them as Larson’s story grew in popularity.

And then, the scary part for every friend group: The Group Chat Subpoena. There are many frightening aspects of this story, but when you’re just casually having fun reading it and get to the aspect of it where the “Chunky Monkeys” writer group has printouts of personal communications (emails, texts, etc.) between them, about Dorland, brought in to help Dorland’s case? Well, that’s a nightmare.

The conversations showed that Larson and her friends were privately mocking Dorland over many things, and while the messages certainly were not kind, who among us hasn’t shared thoughts on someone, among friends, that they wouldn’t want to be made public? This group had private conversations about that are now part of this very public story.

So … the group chat being subpoenaed? That is a true Halloween fright.

The story is absolutely horrifying. It’s one that shows a white woman and her determination to tear down an Asian-American woman and her career over a story about race, and she will clearly stop at nothing to get her “justice” even though Larson made changes to her story specifically to avoid issues of plagiarism.

It’s a wider conversation about artistic expression and inspiration and who we have to credit for what inspires our stories, but it also hits uncomfortably close to the themes of Larson’s story, as she told her friends: “I feel like I am becoming the protagonist in my own story: She wants something from me, something that she can show to lots of people, and I’m not giving it.”

Hopefully, Larson can find peace in her work and Dorland can focus on her own writing, but now you know why Twitter is so obsessed with “Bad Art Friend.”

(image: ABC)

Want more stories like this? Become a subscriber and support the site

 —The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue:

Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. A writer her whole life but professionally starting back in 2016 who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.