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Judging from the celebrity crowd at a reading of works by J.T. Leroy at the Public Theater, the accessory du jour isn’t a Vespa, pink diamonds or the Murakami Vuitton bag. It’s a Leroy-signed raccoon penis bone, worn as an amulet for good luck — and preferably a personal gift from the author.

Sound bizarre? Not if you’re within the cult of Leroy, the ambiguously gendered 23-year-old literary sensation, whose novel, “Sarah,” about a 12-year-old transvestite, features a penis bone-wearing character. At Thursday’s reading hosted by Winona Ryder and Index magazine, readers from Vanessa Carlton to Shirley Manson sported them. And how did they fall under the spell of this mysterious young author?

This story first appeared in the April 22, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Manson, who had read his books, was contacted by Leroy and began an e-mail correspondence with him. “He’s old-school, he’s a man of letters,” she said, adding that she saves every line he sends her. Leroy has also struck up e-mail relationships with Rosario Dawson, Tatum O’Neal and Norman Reedus — all of whom were contacted by the writer.

But Leroy, dressed in baggy pants and dark sunglasses, didn’t mingle much with his famous fans backstage. Rather, the diminutive author sat Indian-style in the wings, a few feet from Ryder, and watched the performances.

“He has a deeper message about humanity,” said Deborah Harry after taking the stage. “I just met him yesterday.”

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