July 22, 2013

Literary Hoaxes and Scandals

Well-Known Literary Scandals and Hoaxes
I finished reading James Frey's A Million Little Pieces before it was later revealed that it was a piece of fiction marketed to the reading public as a non-fiction work. I was of course sort of devastated as I was inspired by a lot of the events in the book. It was a story of hope, second chances and redemption. It turned out the author made up a lot of the events that he described and narrated. James Frey is just a speck in the numerous hoaxes and scandals that had rattled the literary world.

There is no end to the discussions about these literary scandals and hoaxes. They make for good and enduring conversation pieces among writers, readers, and enthusiasts of the written word. They may have failed to cause a stir among the general population; but in the literary world, they unleashed waves of tsunami proportions.

In this page, we will take a look into some of the most well-known of these literary hoaxes and scandals. So sit back, put your reading glasses on and enjoy (or be disgusted).

1) Kaavya Viswanathan Plagiarizing Pages from Novels by Megan McCafferty and Other Authors
Kaavya Viswanathan was just 19 when Little Brown published her first novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life which she wrote after graduating from high school. She was then a sophomore at Harvard with a reported $500,000 two-book deal. Opal Mehta, a chick-lit novel was a success. DreamWorks reportedly had plans of making a movie adaptation of it.

However, the Harvard Crimson website later reported that Viswanathan had plagiarized dozens of passages from novels by Megan McCafferty. As a result, her publisher Little Brown recalled all copies of the book from the shelves.

Viswanathan admitted that she had indeed read McCafferty's books. However, she was also quick to claim that she was the victim of a case of photographic memory. It was later discovered that she also lifted from the works of Salman Rushdie, Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot and Tanuja Desai Hidier.

Here's a breakdown of the writers and their works which Viswanathan was accused of plagiarizing:
1. Megan McCafferty: Sloppy Firsts, Second Helpings
2. Salman Rushdie: Haroun and the Sea of Stories
3. Sophie Kinsella: Can You Keep a Secret?
4. Meg Cabot: The Princess Diaries
5. Tanuja Desai Hidier: Born Confused

2) James Frey and His A Million Little Pieces (Lies)
Released in 2003, A Million Little Pieces (sold as a memoir), garnered mixed reviews. Some praised it as "the War and Peace of addiction" while some called it "irritating". In 2005, the book climbed bestseller lists when it was featured by Oprah for her Book Club. It stayed at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list for several straight months.

Then The Smoking Gun put out an article after doing a six-week investigation into Frey's book. It turned out that Frey fabricated a lot of the events he presented as facts in his book. Below are some of the lies he presented as "truth" in the book as well as lies during interviews of him about the book:

*He invented a role for himself in a train-automobile collision that took the lives of two high school girls. Frey falsely portrayed himself as a third victim in the crash.

*He claimed that during a three-month stint in jail, he spent his time reading the likes of Don Quixote, The Brothers Karamazov and War and Peace. The truth is the only time he ever spent in jail took less than five hours.

Wikipedia now lists A Million Little Pieces as a semi-fictional novel.

3) Margaret Seltzer a.k.a. Margaret B. Jones and her Love and Consequences: A Memoir of Hope and Survival
Margaret Seltzer posed as Margaret B. Jones and wrote an autobiography about her being half-white, half-Native American and growing up in a black foster home in South Central Los Angeles where she claimed she ran drugs for a gang called The Bloods. Critics acclaimed the memoir. Michiko Kakutani, writing for the New York Times, wrote a positive piece about the book.

All it took was a phone call to prove that the memoir was a hoax. After a photograph of the author appeared in the New York Times, her older sister recognized her and promptly revealed that everything about the book is false. Margaret B. Jones never existed. The book is a work of fiction after all.

When the fakery was exposed, the book crashed really bad. If you are to look into reviews of the book on Amazon right now, majority of the reviewers gave it one star out of five.

4) Laura Victoria Albert a.k.a J.T. LeRoy
American writer Laura Victoria Albert created J.T. (Jeremiah Terminator) LeRoy, one of the longest running literary hoaxes in history. Albert got Savannah Knoop, the half-sister of her then partner Geoffrey Knoop to act as LeRoy during public appearances.

Years later, it was revealed (most famously through an article in the New York Times) that JT LeRoy wasn't real and merely the creation of Albert. Four books were published under the name LeRoy. These were Sarah, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, Harold's End, and Labour.

Albert defended herself from critics by describing LeRoy not as a hoax but rather an avatar. Still, in 2007, she was convicted of fraud.

In 2006, Albert was interviewed by writer Nathaniel Rich and excerpts from the Q & A appeared in an edition of the quarterly literary magazine, The Paris Review. In the interview, Albert explained the issues and circumstances surrounding the existence of her creation JT Leroy. The piece is a must-read if you are interested about the thing.

What's Albert a.k.a LeRoy up to now? Check her out on her official website at lauralabert.org. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

5) The Education of Little Tree by Asa Earl Carter
Yet another instance of fictional work presented to the public as factual memoir. The Education of Little Tree was a huge critical and financial success when it was published. It sold over 9 million copies and it has become a popular entry in school reading lists across America.

Published with the name of the author listed as Forrest Carter, the book is the supposed memoir of an orphan growing up with his Native American (Cherokee) grandparents. It was revealed more than a decade later that the real name of the author is Asa Earl Carter and that the memoir is not a memoir at all.

Making the hoax more interesting are the facts that Asa Carter was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and that he was a speech writer for George Wallace, a segregationist governor in Alabama.

A film adaptation of The Education of Little Tree was released in 1997. It was directed by Richard Friedenberg and it starred Joseph Ashton, James Cromwell, Tantoo Cardinal, Graham Greene, Christopher Heyerdahl, and Mika Boorem.

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