by Carmen Van Kerckhove and Latoya Peterson
The latest fake memoir scandal erupted last week. Margaret B. Jones’ critically acclaimed book “Love and Consequences,” about a half white, half Native American girl’s experiences with sexual abuse, foster care, and gang violence, turned out to be a complete fabrication. Not only did Margaret Seltzer (her real name) actually grow up with her white biological family in well-to-do neighborhood, but she even faked the foundation she supposedly started to end gang violence. Latoya and Carmen had an IM conversation about it…
Carmen: It’s funny because just a few days before I this story broke, I had been thinking about this very issue while skimming some book reviews
in Elle. Why is it that these literary memoirs about people with fucked-up lives are written by white folks? Is there something about a white person experiencing this kind of dysfunction that seems unusual or abnormal? Whereas if a person of color wrote something similar, it would strike people as par for the course? And therefore less marketable?
Latoya: Def – it’s all about the fucked up lives of white people, I guess because they just assume minorities are fucked up so there is nothing special about that. I was reading ABW, and one of her guest bloggers mentioned how Felicia “Snoop” Pearson of The Wire has a book about her life and experiences…that didn’t get nearly as much press. And, I’ll agree, probably not a $100K advance either.
But that’s neither here or there.
My question is why did no one pick up the phone and verify the basics of her account? The publishing industry wants to act like they publish too many books to check – but they can’t take 30 minutes to call the Child Welfare department or whatever state organization is in charge of child care and verify she was there from xxxx – xxxx?
Carmen: Seriously. And if you think about how long the life cycle of a book is (can take 2 or 3 years to actually get published) – there is plenty of time for some basic fact-checking.
I was really struck by the fact that she chose to identify as half Native-American, half white, when in real life she’s just white. What did you make of that?
Latoya: Minority street cred?
Maybe she was trying to find the most oppressed group to identify with?
I’m just confused about the whole situation. The biggest thing I’m wondering about – if these were people she knew through her work, why didn’t she publish their memoirs? Or a book about her experiences? Or an anthology of their stories? Why did she feel the need to internalize their suffering and insert herself into the narrative?
Carmen: Who knows – maybe her agent told her that would be an easier sell? Not saying she has no blame/say in the matter, but there are people other than her involved in this project, I’m sure.
It is amazing though, that after Oprah ripped James Frey a new asshole on (inter)national television, that publishers wouldn’t take at least some basic precautions to prevent a similar debacle. Continue reading