March 26, 2008 § 10 Comments
Or, Why You Should Never, Ever Send Your Children to School in Oregon.
FROM AN EXCELLENT OPINION PIECE IN THE EUGENE REGISTER-GUARD:
While commentators elsewhere in the country were condemning [Peggy] Seltzer [and her fraudulent memoir, Love and Consequences,] for deceit and betrayal, the intellectuals of Eugene have been circling their academic wagons around her. So far, a professor of English and one of philosophy at the University of Oregon have put their prestige on the line with spirited public defenses of Seltzer’s moral right to lie. A teacher of memoir writing at Lane Community College has also been very sympathetic.
Linda S. Clare, the LCC memoir teacher, admits in a March 13 guest viewpoint that she herself advises her students to “embroider” their dull life stories with untruths. [SEE BELOW FOR UPDATE, Dec. 2009]
Seltzer, she says, simply went too far. (Perhaps it should be noted here that Seltzer, who is white and was raised in middle class comfort, somehow passed herself off as a half-Native American, who was brought up by black foster parents in South Central Los Angeles where she ran drugs for the Bloods.)
“In my mind,” says Clare, “that doesn’t make the writing any less complex or beautiful. What I don’t know is what to call it.” While commentators elsewhere had no trouble in knowing what to call Seltzer’s book, Clare reluctantly concludes only that: “ ‘Love and Consequences’ probably can’t be a memoir.”
But Gordon Sayre, a professor of English at the UO, has no such ambivalence. Seltzer’s book, in his estimation, is a fine example of a memoir in the great American tradition.
“Since the early days of American literature,” writes Sayre in a March 9 guest viewpoint, “the boundaries between novel and autobiography have been indistinct, and readers have eagerly confounded them.”
Sayre’s point is that readers like to be duped by fantastic true life tales, and so what if they do? Who’s hurt by it, anyway?
Certainly not Sayre, whose Native American literature students at UO included Seltzer. The professor feels no resentment that his prized student fooled him with her memoir and snookered him with a class paper in which she fabricated a childhood on an Indian reservation.
REPLY: In December 2009, Linda Clare responded to the blog with a comment, which we reprint here in its entirety, because fair is fair. Though we at Brevity would still disagree with her limited definition of embroidery — even adding decorative details which the writer knew to be false would be dishonest under our definition — it does seem as if the Eugene newspaper expanded some on Ms. Clare’s ideas.
Linda S. Clare
URL : http://www.godsonggrace.blogspot.com
I only just today came across the blog entry and the comments about Peggy Seltzer. For the record, I do not ever encourage my students or anyone else to “embroider with untruths.” My essay in fact, stated, “So I tell them (students) that in dramatizing a story, it’s sometimes necessary to embroider.” The author’s embellishment of the word embroider certainly changed my intent, which was to say that one may “misremember,” details as a comment remarked, but to fabricate the event itself or change the intent of the story is not what a memoir should be. I’m sorry if my remarks were misinterpreted. In my mind, embroidery is the addition of details to the story. An untruth is simply a lie.
March 6, 2008 § 7 Comments
mediabistro has a nice entry on the Love and Consequences controversy, ending with:
“Seltzer probably signed a contract that said that what she was representing as fact was, indeed, fact,” comments one literary agent, preferring to remain anonymous. “Penguin should sue her for return of the advance and by doing so, scare the shit out of any fake memoirists in the future… It would be nice if a publisher with deep pockets went after one of these liars and scared away the one percent of memoirists who are fakes, so the other 99 percent can be treated fairly in the future.”