Tuesday, January 24, 2006

you can fool all of the people some of the time

In the wake of the James Frey & JT Leroy scandals, Rachel Giese rounds up ten of the best literary hoaxes.

Ern Malley’s The Darkening Ecliptic
In 1944, an Australian poetry editor published a collection of poems by a raw young talent named Ern Malley, a Melbourne mechanic who had died the previous year. The editor lauded Malley as one of the most “important poetic figures of this century.” Alas, the verses had been written as a joke by a pair of poetry purists: James McAuley and Harold Stewart penned Malley’s entire body of work in one afternoon, pulling phrases randomly from books and making it purposely obscure. Their mission was to reveal what they felt was the “gradual decay” and absurdity of avant-garde poetry. The hoax became national news and was the inspiration for Peter Carey’s 2003 novel My Life As a Fake.

Forrest Carter’s The Education of Little Tree
One of the stranger hoaxes. Published in 1977, Forrest Carter’s celebrated memoir about a Cherokee orphan who fights racism and struggles to connect with his heritage was later revealed to have been written by a white Ku Klux Klan member named Asa Carter. (In more recent reprints, The Education of Little Tree was labeled “fiction.”) Carter had previously worked for Alabama Governor George Wallace, penning his infamous inauguration speech, in which Wallace vowed: “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw a line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say: segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.”