White author writes fake memoir of growing up in South L.A.
Shirley Hawkins | 3/12/2008, 5 p.m.
The story was riveting--a half-white, half-Native American former foster child grows up in South Central L.A., writes a gritty memoir that captures a world of drug dealing and gang rivalries, poverty, and despair.
But it turns out that the author, Margaret B. Jones, is actually Margaret Seltzer, a white, private-school-educated 33-year-old who gives a fictionalized account of growing up in South L.A. and whose book has caused a furor of controversy.
The book, entitled Love and Consequences: A Memoir of Hope and Survival, chronicles the life of Margaret Jones, who moves to South Los Angeles at the age of eight. There, she is raised by Big Mom, a big, kindhearted black foster parent who loves Jones as if she were her own child. Jones eventually gets mixed up with a notorious gang, for whom she acts as a screener for neighborhood residents seeking to buy drugs.
The book, which received glowing reviews from The New York Times, was recalled by Penguin Books after Seltzers sister broke the news that the memoir was a fake.
On Thursday, Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and Eddie Jones, president of the Los Angeles Civil Rights Association, held a press conference at Eso Won Books to denounce the fake memoir.
There needs to be a code of ethics in this (book) industry so that they scrutinize the facts, said Hutchinson. Im sending a letter to the president of Penguin Books. When authors write about black and Latino life, they have to make sure it is not a lie or a distortion.
I am really appalled by this book , declared Jones, who said he grew up in South Los Angeles. This author said she worked for the Bloods and the Crips but all she did was exploit our community for money. ... Where are the people she depicted in the book? he queried.
Hutchinson and Jones were equally as incensed that the book depicts negative images about blacks in South Los Angeles. These white writers come in and write novels of gang and urban life, Hutchinson said. They lie, distort, and stereotype and all it does is reinforce the negative images of young black males. They pimp our lives, said Hutchinson.
The story has no validity. When you look at the young men in the community, they are just as hungry to be productive. There are a lot of great things that African Americans have contributed to this community, said Jones.
James Fugate, co-owner of Eso Won Books, said that Seltzer was supposed to appear at a book signing at Eso Won Friday but that the signing was canceled. We just pulled the book off the shelves, said Fugate, who said he sent Love and Consequences back to the publisher. I talked to the publishers at Penguin and they are very unhappy. They said they were deceived by Seltzer. They offered to compensate us for any publicity we had done.
It seemed as if it would have been very easy for the publishers to fact-check her story, even though Big Mom is supposed to be dead. In light of all the books that have been written and turned out to be fakes in the last few years, it seemed that checking these novels out first would save the publishers a lot of embarrassment, said Fugate.
Pausing, Fugate said that the book follows a trend in urban literature that is growing in popularity. Its unfortunate, but for me, its one of those books that I dont care very much for anyway, but we sell them. People want to read them and thats their right. I said to my customers, If we only carried the books I liked, we would not have very many books in Eso Won.
Jones said that the growing trend in urban fiction in the last few years, is sending the wrong message to young African Americans. Our people are buying gold and bling bling and riding around on 24-inch rims. We are sending a fake message to our youth. We have to let our youth know that life is not like a microwave. You have to have a plan.