Have you heard about the woman who wrote a memoir that recounted her experiences growing up in foster care, as a half white, half native American, raised by a black mother and caught up in gang warfare? It turns out that none of it was true and she is, in fact, all white and was raised in a typical middle/upper class family. In fact, it was her sister that blew the whistle on her.
There is so much in this story that is absolutely fascinating and appalling all at once. First, there is the fact that this is not by any means the first memoir to have been faked and then outed. We all heard about the Oprah to-do with James Frey’s book. And there was at least one other high profile case after that one… It leads me to wonder what in the world is happening in our society that this has become a trend. What does it say about us? Is the driving force greed because memoirs sell better than fiction, or is there something deeper? Some sort of national self-esteem problem? Total greed? Have memoirs in other countries been turning out to be fakes or is this unique to the United States?
Then there’s the racial dynamics which are so appalling I can barely stand to write this. The fact that a white woman would claim connections to both Native American heritage and a uniquely black family experience seems like a horrible exploitation of two groups of people that whites have traditionally oppressed. The fact that she stood to make a lot of money off of this makes it even worse. She claims to have done it out of altruism, to give voice to people who could not articulate for themselves, but that’s just downright insulting. Does she know how many talented authors there are of every race and every level of wealth who fight for the very limited spots on a publisher’s list? Obviously not. Instead, she employed a horrible racist world view that allowed her to assume not a single person from the environment she writes about would be smart and articulate enough to write their own story, therefore she would have to do it for them. As a favor. I wonder how many of them are thanking her.
Someone please buy that woman any of the many books written by people who have overcome great adversity to share their stories in prose that is uniquely their own.
Lastly, there is a sensational element to this story that makes you absolutely want to know more about what was happening behind the scenes. The fact that her own sister turned her in conjures up images of family drama that probably would be worthy of a memoir. In fact, it’s so fascinating I think I will write a book about it. And then maybe I will say that it is my story, not hers. I will be doing her a favor because now that she’s discredited she won’t be able to write her own memoir. I’ll tell everything from my point of view and I’m sure she’ll be very grateful.
I wish I truly knew what was going on in this woman’s mind. I feel so terrible for her editor who is also getting trashed in the media, but having worked with an editor myself, I can’t say I think this is fair. It’s such a personal relationship, and the editor would have had no reason to assume that this woman was lying. As far as I know, my editor has never done an identity check on me, just to be sure I am who I say I am. We all make certain assumptions when dealing with others, and one of the most basic ones is that they’re telling us the truth. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for the state of memoirs in this country, editors probably won’t make these assumptions much longer.