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Words for the Taking

Words for the Taking

The Hunt for a Plagiarist

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Neal Bowers


5 x 8


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About the Book

In January 1992, poet Neal Bowers received a phone call that changed his life. He learned his poems had been stolen and published under another name. Bowers hired a copyright lawyer and a private detective, and they began the agonizing hunt to track down the person who stole his creative work.

Bowers was dealing with more than the theft of words. He uncovered the plagiarist’s unsavory past when he found convicted child molester David Jones, who published the poems using the name David Sumner.

Determined to hold the plagiarist accountable, Bowers is drawn into a bizarre game of catch-me-if-you-can. His odyssey introduces him to the legal system and a sympathetic female detective, reveals the reactions of fellow poets, and provokes a flood of nationwide publicity and a deluge of letters from strangers interested in the case. Letters from Bowers’s attorney to Jones and phone conversations between the two produce unsatisfactory results. In the end, the plagiarist is not punished, and Bowers deals with the loss of friends, derision from his colleagues, and trouble in his marriage.

Words for the Taking: The Hunt for a Plagiarist, first published in 1997, is as much a commentary on our cultural view of plagiarism as it is a real-life detective story. Bowers’s wry and disturbing account of being the victim of a serial plagiarist offers unexpected twists and startling revelations. This updated edition presents a final consideration of the bizarre case and remains the only book to offer a personal account of the effects of plagiarism.

Ten years after the original publication, Neal Bowers finds his life as a writer altered in ways he could never have foreseen. His responses to the series of events show his vulnerability as an artist and his adjustment to being a victim. In a new chapter, Bowers describes his renewed quest in 2006 for a resolution and explains why he chose to give up writing poetry.

This beautifully written case study about the discovery and attempted resolution of an intellectual crime will appeal to academicians and general readers alike who care about language, the state of poetry, and intellectual property in contemporary America.


Neal Bowers, Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a professor of English at Iowa State University, is the author of eight books, including Loose Ends; Theodore Roethke: The Journey from I to Otherwise; James Dickey: The Poet As Pitchman; and Out of the South, a collection of poems. He has published more than four hundred poems and essays and received numerous awards for his writing, notably a National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship, the Rainmaker Award, and the Midland Author’s Award.


“As Bowers pursues his nemesis through a maze of deception and impersonation, he discovers more than he bargained for about shattered lives and unsavory ambition.  Words for the Taking is a compelling exposé not only of plagiarism but also the literary culture that unwittingly tolerates it.”—Dana Gioia, author of Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture