Margaret B. Jones published “Love and Consequences” in 2008 as a memoir of her life as an abused half black, half native child foster child when in fact she is a white woman from a middle class neighborhood.
“Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years” was written by Misha Defonseca in 1997. The book was a Bestseller and was translated into 18 languages, and made into a feature film in France. However, the author admitted in February 2008 that her story of trekking across Europe with a pack of wolves during the Holocaust wasn’t true. Apparently she’s not even Jewish.
James Frey wrote his 2003 memoir, A Million Little Pieces, about a 23-year-old alcoholic drug abuser who manages to get his life back together with the help of a Twelve Steps-oriented treatment center. Frey eventually admitted to fabricating large portions of the book and left a swindled Oprah apologizing to the world for defending him. Even though the books publisher was forced to offer money back to dissatisfied customers, the book continues to sell as a work of fiction.
JT LeRoy, aka Laura Albert… not only picked a pseudonym but made up a fake background and even sent a friend to impersonate LeRoy on book tours. Albert kept up the HIV-positive former drug addicted hustler double life for several years and managed to squeeze out a few bestsellers(“Sarah” and “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things”) before the hammer dropped.
Timothy Patrick Barrus wrote three ‘memoirs’ under the pseudonym Nasdijj: “The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams” (2000), “The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping” (2003) and “Geronimo’s Bones: A Memoir of My Brother and Me” (2004). Within them he claimed to be of Navajo heritage with abusive parents until LA Weekly blew the story open.
In 1999 Michael Pelligrino fooled US publisher Simon & Schuster into thinking that he was Michael Gambino, grandson of Mafioso Carlo Gambino, and went on to write `The Honored Society` a book that was supposedly based on his own experiences as a gangster. The pack of lies was exposed when a legitimate Gambino family member heard about the book and had his lawyers blow the whistle.
Binjamin Wilkomirski (aka Bruno Grosjean) wrote “Fragments”, a supposed Holocaust memoir, in 1996. The book recalled the horrors of two Nazi death camps in Poland and the book won the National Jewish Book Award for an autobiography. In 1999 a historian investigated accusations against the author it was discovered that Wilkomirski was actually Swiss a man named Bruno Grosjean who had never been in a camp.
Anthony Godby Johnson was credited for writing “A Rock and a Hard Place” in 1993. The story involves a 14-year-old HIV-positive boy describing the sexual abuse he suffers. A group of journalists eventually uncovered that Anthony didn’t exist and the story was totally fictional. The novel had been written by Vicki Fraginals, who claimed to be Anthony’s foster mother and impersonated the fictional child in telephone interviews.
Marlo Morgan, caused a stir among Australian Aboriginal groups when she published “Mutant Message Down Under” in 1994. The book claimed to be a memoir of her time spent with Aboriginals. After a number of protests by Aboriginal groups, claims that Morgan invented large portions of the book, and insights suggesting that she may have never stepped foot on the continent, the book is now published as fiction.
Forbidden Love (also called Honor Lost in the United States) was written by Norma Khouri (pen name of Norma Bagain Toliopoulos). It is the story the writers Jordanian friend who’s love for a Christian soldier had been kept secret from her Muslim father due to conflict in religion. When the father eventually finds out and consequently stabs his daughter to death in a so-called honor killing. In 2004 Sydney Morning Herald journalist Malcolm Knox discovered that book was a hoax leaving us with another work of fiction.
Asa Cater, a white Ku Klux Klan member published “The Education of Little Tree” in 1977 under the pen name Forrest Carter. The book is described as a memoir of Carter, who as a Cherokee orphan who battled racism and struggled to find his heritage. By the 1990s Asa was discovered to be the actual writer of the book and publishers re-classified it as fiction. It was around this time that Oprah removed the book from her list of picks.
Clifford Irving forged letters and signatures and created false names for Swiss bank accounts in an attempt to earn $750,000 for writing a fake biography of the reclusive Howard Hughes.
“Go Ask Alice,” by Anonymous, is the diary of a teenage girl who’d died of a drug overdose which was published as a cautionary tale to deter foolhardy teens from following in her footsteps. However it was eventually revealed that the book’s “editor,” Beatrice Sparks, was also the books author and the anonymous girl was in fact fictitious. The controversy didn’t deter Sparks, who went on to produce many other similar “diaries” about troubled adolescents.
Maria Monk’s book “Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, or, The Hidden Secrets of a
Nun’s Life in a Convent Exposed” was published in January 1836. The book is about the seven years that Monk spent at the convent of the Hôtel-Dieu where was forced to have sex with priests who killed the illegitimate babies and made uncooperative nuns disappear. After several investigations it was discovered that building descriptions in the book did not match the actual building and that the claims of the book were false. Moreover, Monk herself was found to have suffered brain damage as a child and had trouble distinguishing fact and fantasy and it is believed she may have been manipulated into the role by publishers.
In the 1840s Reverend Johann Wilhelm Meinhold claimed to have discovered a manuscript written by Abraham Schweidler, a former minister of the old Coserow Church. Meinhold then published the story of Mary Schweidler: The Amber Witch in German as a fact based instructional document for the avoidance of witchcraft. Critics believed it to be authentic and it was only in later editions that the author admitted to it being a work of fiction. This book contains a hoax within the hoax as the English translator Lady Duff-Gordon gave herself credit as author in 1861 denying the original German edition until she was later found out.
In the late 1700s, Thomas Chatterton claimed to have found poems written by a 15th century monk named Thomas Rowley. When it was discovered that Chatterton had written them himself and the young poet panicked killing himself with arsenic. His work was eventually published after his death, and he became a beacon of inspiration to Romantic poets everywhere.
Also in the 1700s James Macpherson claimed a translation of the 3rd century epic Gaelic poet Ossian, it took nearly a century to prove that Macpherson had written them himself.
Hoaxes designed to expose
In an effort to show how literature in America had become mindlessly vulgar a group of writers at Newsday wrote “Naked Came the Stranger” in 1969, going into explicit detail about the sexual adventures of a suburban housewife. When it was found out that the author Penelope Ashe was in fact 25 Newsday writers, sales of the book were left unchanged.
A group of Science Fiction writers got together in 2005 to write book so bad it would be deemed un-publishable by any proper publisher. Each chapter of Atlanta Nights was written by a different author, including both chapter 12s and chapter 34 which was written by a computer program. The only chapter not written by a different author was the non existent chapter 21. The project was to test PublishAmerica s claim that they were a traditional publisher of high quality work, the manuscript was accepted but once the hoax was reveled they re-evaluated their decision and eventually rejected the book. The author group then self published the book on a lark under the pseudonym Travis Tea.
Ern Malley wasn’t an Australian mechanic turned poet, but the creation of James McAuley and Harold Stewart. The pair of poets wrote a set of poems and created an elaborate, albeit fake, back story for Erm Malley. As they hoped the poems were published in an effort to discredit the Australian poetry magazine Angry Penguins. The events all played out as planned and Erm Malley remains one of Australia’s greatest literary hoaxes.
In the mid 1950s, New York radio personality Jean Shepherd was outraged by the way bestseller lists were created. At the time the lists were composed of books sold as well as requests for books at a bookstore. Shepherd urged listeners to go to their local bookstores to demand “I, Libertine,” by Frederick C. Ewing when neither the book nor the author existed. The gag created a sensation and convinced, bestseller list creators that their methods were outdated and also got Sheppard a book deal to actually write the fake book.