“Margaret B. Jones” – Just the latest Native American literary fraud

March 5, 2008

loveandconsequencesFrom the Los Angeles Times, March 5, 2008:
“Author admits gang-life ‘memoir’ was all fiction

Sister blew the whistle on Margaret B. Jones, who said she was a foster child in South L.A., but really grew up with family in Sherman Oaks.

By Bob Pool and Rebecca Trounson
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

March 4, 2008

The gripping memoir of “Margaret B. Jones” received critical raves. It turns out it should have been reviewed as fiction.

The author of “Love and Consequences,” a critically acclaimed autobiography about growing up among gangbangers in South Los Angeles, acknowledged Monday that she made up everything in her just-published book.

“Jones” is actually Margaret Seltzer. Instead of being a half-white, half-Native American who grew up in a foster home and once sold drugs for the Bloods street gang, she is a white woman who was raised with her biological family in Sherman Oaks and graduated from Campbell Hall, an exclusive private school in the San Fernando Valley…”

Though falsified memoirs and autobiographical works have become something of a literary trend lately, writers claiming Native American ancestry or connections who are subsequently exposed as frauds is something of a long standing literary tradition. Two years ago, Nasdijj, who had presented himself as a fetal alcohol syndrome affected Navajo writer, was revealed to be a non-Native who had previously tried to make a career out of writing gay erotica. Coincidentally, the day after the story broke, James Frey appeared on Oprah to confess fabrications in his memoir, A Million Little Pieces. Other writers who have falsely claimed Native ancestry or connections include Jamake Highwater and Forrest Carter, whose Education Of Little Tree, which was originally released as a memoir but is now classified as fiction, remains in print. Carlos Castaneda made millions writing “non-fiction” books detailing his mystical experiences with a Yaqui Indian, don Juan, whose existence has been called into question, if not flat out denied, by many respected anthropologists and scholars. Castaneda’s works also remain in print. Yet Margaret B. Jones’s book has been pulled by its publishers. To quote Pee Wee Herman, “What’s the significance? I don’t know!” Well, I do, more or less, as it seems faking Native American ancestry or connections seems to be the easy, and for many, the preferred way into the world of publishing. However, what has happened to Jones and Nasdijj seems to be the exception rather than the rule, as the works of Highwater, Carter and Castaneda all remained in print long after their authenticity was called into question. Clearly, the publishing industry needs to rethink its method of verifying the authenticity of the works it keeps offering to the public as “memoirs,” just as it needs to rethink on what grounds they choose to represent authors as Native American, or else those claiming to speak for Native Americans, and what they do when those authors are exposed as frauds.

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