Literary Hoaxes are so old hat…but in the spirit of the recent Quadrant hoax, here are some of the most scandalous:
1. Best-selling ‘Native American’ novelist Nasdijj (The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams , 2000) is in fact Timothy Patrick Barrus, a white gay-erotica writer.
2. In the early to mid-nineties, in what has become known as the Hiroshima Poetry Hoax, American poetry journals such as Grand Street and Conjunctions ‘post humously’ published the poetry of Hiroshima survivor Araki Yasusada, reported to have died in 1972. Biographical notes included insight into Yasusada’s life, such as his daughter’s death from radiation poisoning. Said to provide a revolutionary new voice bridging the gap between Japanese and Western poetics, it was eventually revealed that there was no Yasusada, and the most probable, though officially unconfirmed, perpetrator of the hoax was Kent Johnson, a 41-year-old professor of English at a Community College in Illinois.
3. ‘Aboriginal’ writer Mudrooroo (Us Mob, 1995) is actually Colin Thomas Johnson, of Irish and African-American descent.
4. The classic ‘American Indian’ text The Education of Little Tree (1976), supposedly written by ‘Forrest Carter’, was revealed in 1991 to be penned by ex-ku klux klansman Asa Earl Carter.
5. Binjamin Wilkomirski (awarded the National Jewish Book Award for his a Holocaust memoir Fragmentsi) was revealed in 1999 to be Swiss man Bruno Grosjean Dessekker.
6. In 2006, young American transgender author JT Leroy (Sarah, 2000) was revealed by journalist Stephen Beachy, of New York magazine to be Brooklyn mum Laura Albert.
7. Misha Defonseca’s 1997 best-seller A Memoire of the Holocaust Years, made into a feature film, and translated into 18 languages, was outed as a work of pure fiction. Not only was the author’s extraordinary tale of journeying across Europe with a pack of wolves during the Holocaust untrue, but she wasn’t even Jewish, and had not been inside the Nazi war-camps she detailed.
8. New York Times lauded author Margaret Seltzer, whose ‘memoir’ Love and Consequences details her life as a half-caste Native American girl growing up in the ghetto with her black foster mother, was outed by her biological sister to be a white, middle-class, private school educated woman.
9. In one of the earliest documented hoaxes in the early 1700’s, a man christened George Psalmanazar appeared in Europe, claiming to be from Formosa (now know as Taiwan). His tales of Formosan life, detailing cultural eccentricities such as hanging convicted murderers upside-down and spearing them with arrows, a preference for polygamy, sleeping upright in chairs, consuming heavily spiced raw meat and living almost entirely indoors (which apparently explained his fair skin) were widely published in his book, An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa. In 1706, Psalmanazar revealed himself as a hoaxer, and in his later memoir, Memoirs of ****, Commonly Known by the Name of George Psalmanazar, published posthumously, he revealed himself to be of Irish Catholic extraction.
10. In a cheeky practical joke, and perhaps the funniest literary hoax of all time, the popular 1950’s US radio host Jean Shepherd convinced his listeners to approach their local bookstores demanding a copy of I, Libertine, a non-existent book, written by the fictitious ‘Frederick R, Ewing’, a British expert in 18th century erotica. Biographer Eugene B. Bergman (Excelsior, You Fathead: The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd, 2005) recounts how Shepherd’s listeners collaborated to flesh out the biography of the fake on air one evening. Not only did bookstores attempt to order the publication in, but fans planted references to the publication and author so widely that the fictitious book appeared on the New York Times best-seller list, and was banned by the Archdiocese if Boston for lewdness. The hoax was uncovered by the Wall Street Journal, and the eventually written retrospectively by Shepherd and his collaborators, and appeared on the New York Times best-seller list in it’s own right.
(extracted from an article on literary hoaxes I wrote for Good Reading magazine last year).
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