Timothy Patrick Barrus (born 1950) is an American author who, under the pseudonym Nasdijj, wrote three supposed memoirs of his experiences as a Native American, which were published between 2000 and 2004.

Barrus portrayed an ancestral and personal history that was later determined to be false in most respects. He has not published since investigative reporting in 2006 brought this to light. His work has been considered one of the major examples in the United States publishing world of memoirs released under false or misleading pretenses. Prior to writing as Nasdijj, Barrus wrote gay and sadomasochistic erotica. He was born in Lansing, Michigan, and has no known Native American ancestry.[1]


Publication and recognition

As Nasdijj, Barrus received widespread recognition as a writer on the Native American experience. His essay, "The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams", was published in Esquire in 1999 and was a finalist in the National Magazine Awards that year. It was published as part of a collection under the same name.[2] He won the 2004 PEN American Center's Beyond Margins award, for The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping.[3]

In the specialist Native American journal, Studies in American Indian Literatures (SAIL), Marijo Moore wrote, "Nasdijj has shed his blood that runs like a river through his dreams. Spilled it all over the pages of this book so that others might relate. Raw, poignant, poetic, and painful, Nasdijj's style of writing is refreshing."[4]

The books which Barrus published under the name Nasdijj are:

  • The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams (2000),
  • The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping (2003) , and
  • Geronimo's Bones: A Memoir of My Brother and Me (2004).

Published as non-fiction, each memoir purportedly recounted aspects of the author's life. The memoirs referred to his Navajo heritage, his self-destructive and abusive parents, his unhappy childhood as a migrant worker, his dysfunctional relationships with other family members, and his growing up to become a nurturing father. As an adult, he said he adopted and cared for a child with fetal alcohol syndrome and then one who was HIV-positive.

In a 2002 PEN Forum, in which authors were asked to describe "literary lineage", Nasdijj responded, "My literary lineage is Athabaskan. I hear Changing Woman in my head. I listen to trees, rocks, deserts, crows, and the tongues of wind. I am Navajo and the European things you relate so closely to often simply seem alien and remote. I do not know them."[5]

Hoax controversy

In January 2006, the LA Weekly published an article, "Navahoax", proving that Nasdijj was in fact an ethnic European American named Timothy Patrick "Tim" Barrus. He had been married twice, and his second (and current) wife was Tina Giovanni. He was the biological father of at least one daughter. The article noted that Barrus was previously known as the author of fiction relating to gay sado-masochism.[6]

Extensive media coverage followed the story's publication. A former literary agent for Nasdijj, while not confirming the LA Weekly article, called it "well researched and highly persuasive."[7] News & Observer, a North Carolina newspaper that had published some of Nasdijj's work, confirmed that it had on file a social security number that matched that of Tim Barrus. Esquire magazine revealed that it had paid for a 1999 Nasdijj article with a check made out to "Tim Nasdijj Barrus".[8]

The LA Weekly article, "Nasdijj Shops Tell-All", noted these developments and quoted an e-mail from Nasdijj to an editor at Penguin Books offering a novel for publication called Year of the Hyena: The Story of Nasdijj. The article presented excerpts from Nasdijj's blog with the headline, "Deserving Death for Evil Deeds, by Tim Barrus". It quoted, "What you want to believe you want to believe. If I am the devil incarnate then I am the devil incarnate." Subsequently, Nasdijj's blog was deleted from its host TypePad.[7]

Notable Native American author, Sherman Alexie, commented on the controversy.[9] In an article for the February 6, 2006 issue of Time magazine, Alexie wrote,

"So why should we be concerned about his lies? His lies matter because he has cynically co-opted as a literary style the very real suffering endured by generations of very real Indians because of very real injustices caused by very real American aggression that destroyed very real tribes."

Author David Treuer described Barrus' actions as "harmful cultural fraud",[10] while activist Suzan Shown Harjo argued, "There should be a law for the Navajo Nation to sue Barrus for the profits he made while committing the crime of stealing tribal identity."[11]

Attention to the hoax's exposure was heightened by near-simultaneous revelations concerning other literary scandals: writer James Frey had made up portions of works published as memoirs, and purported author JT LeRoy was created as a performance by one person, with published works that had been created as collaborations between two others - none the teenage boy of poor background as represented in interviews and content.[12] One commentator noted that "the convergence of all three scandals at once had the feel of a Triple Crown of hoaxery, with the grand losers being accuracy, truth, and literature itself."[13]

After "Nasdijj"

After the scandal broke, J. Peder Zane, the News & Observer's book-review editor, who had published some of Nasdijj's work and promoted his writing, reflected, "I felt no sense of betrayal. I knew it wasn't personal. Barrus hadn't conned me; I had just drifted into the black hole of his life, which sucked the trust out of everything within reach."[14]

In May 2006, Esquire published "Nasdijj", an article for which author Andrew Chaikivsky interviewed Barrus, his second wife, his daughter, and others. The article describes a man whose "shifting emotional temperature" veered between "meticulousness and careful good manners" and "a full roar." Speaking of his imposture, Barrus was quoted as saying, "I understand that a trust was violated. I'm not defending it," and "It was a good run." In the course of the interviews, Barrus's claims included acquaintance with Robert Mapplethorpe, being encouraged to write by Tennessee Williams, and adopting a developmentally challenged child with his first wife during the mid-1970s. Chaikivsky stated, "Over the three days I spend with Barrus, I don't believe much of what he tells me." The adoption may be verifiable by court records which are currently sealed. The article noted that Barrus was at work on a new book he described as "a sprawling, novelized account with chapters credited to Barrus, Nasdijj, and several HIV-positive teenage boys who claim to have lived in a shelter run by Nasdijj."[1]

In May 2007, Virginia Heffernan of The New York Times's "Screens" blog reported that Barrus had "found a home on YouTube", where he was posting "Nuyorican beat-style stuff", which she described as "irritable, pretty, autodidactic, engrossing."[15]


As Tim Barrus

As Nasdijj

  • The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams (2000)
  • The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping (2003)
  • Geronimo's Bones: A Memoir of My Brother and Me (2004).


  1. ^ a b Andrew Chaikivsky (April 30, 2006). "Nasdijj". Esquire. 
  2. ^ "National Magazine Award". Esquire. 
  3. ^ "Beyond Margins Award Winners". PEN American Center. 
  4. ^ Marijo Moore. "Review". Studies in American Indian Literatures. 
  5. ^ "Forum". PEN American Center. August 2002. 
  6. ^ Matthew Fleischer (January 26, 2006). "Navahoax". LA Weekly. 
  7. ^ a b Matthew Fleischer (January 26, 2006). "Nasdijj Shops Tell-All". LA Weekly. 
  8. ^ Craig Jarvis (January 27, 2006). "Navajo life, or just pale-faced lie?". the News & Observer. 
  9. ^ Sherman Alexie (January 29, 2006). "When the Story Stolen Is Your Own". Time Magazine.,10987,1154221,00.html. 
  10. ^ David Treuer. "thoughts on my USER'S MANUAL". David Treuer. 
  11. ^ Suzan Shown Harjo (February 10, 2006). "Harjo: Fakers and phonies and frauds, egad: There ought to be a law". Indian Country. 
  12. ^ The Associated (January 31, 2006). "Examining publishing’s culture of trust". The Associated Press, retrieved via 
  13. ^ Diane Cole (March 5, 2006). "Publish or Panic". US News & World Report. 
  14. ^ J. Peder Zane (February 10, 2006). "Bluff ran like a river through his schemes". The News & Observer. 
  15. ^ Virginia Heffernan (May 14, 2007). "Give Us Your Snakecharmers, Your Fakirs, Your Frauds". New York Times. 

External links

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