Margaret B. Plagiarizin'?
A little over two years ago, in the midst of the Oprah/James Frey fiasco, I wrote an expose called Navahoax that outed award-winning “Navajo” memoirist Nasdijj as being Tim Barrus — a middle-class white guy from Lansing, Michigan, who was also a failed writer of gay pornography. Barrus not only manufactured his native identity, but he rose to prominence by lifting elements of Native American writer Sherman Alexie's biography and prose style, as well as those of several other native writers. “Nasdijj” won himself a PEN Award and a myriad of other literary accolades in the process.
Needless to say, Sherman Alexie was not pleased.
After Navahoax broke, and forests worth of trees were devoted to shaming Barrus for his fraudulence, Alexie and I both privately hoped our efforts would finally dissuade other struggling white writers from hijacking native identity to jumpstart their careers — a curious and surprisingly common phenomenon that has existed for over a century, dating all the way back to Grey Owl, and possibly even before.
Ours was obviously wishful thinking.
And so this week it was with great interest, and shock, that I saw the news of another Indian fraud perpetrated in the publishing industry — that of Margaret B. Jones/Margaret Seltzer and her book Love and Consequences.
Media coverage of Seltzer's fraud has been extensive, yet surprisingly the native identity theft angle has been largely downplayed. Though I hadn't read the book, looking into the story this week I knew there had to be a juicy Indian minstrel show in there somewhere. As it turns out, my intuition appears to be correct — and I didn't even have to read the book to find it. Seltzer seems to have not just borrowed her native identity, she pulled a Nasdijj and took it directly from Sherman Alexie himself.
Both Love and Consequences and Alexie's novel Reservation Blues have characters named “Big Mom,” soulful saviors who help rescue their books' respective protagonists from damnation — foster care hell for Jones and actual fire and brimstone hell for bluesman Robert Johnson in Reservation Blues, (Johnson traded his soul to the devil.)
Coincidental? Maybe, maybe not. This morning I decided to look into it further.
Though without getting a hold of her book it's tough for me to judge the full extent of the similarities, Seltzer certainly can't claim ignorance of Alexie's work — she's an admitted fan. Alexie is listed prominently on “Margaret B. Jones” Myspace page, (the live page is private, but you can see the Google cache here) as both a “hero” of hers and a favorite author.
(An amusing side note: “Jones'” Myspace page also makes curious reference to herself as “the west kept secret.” Might be time to update that profile. It might also be time to take the Bishop Lamont rap track off of there in favor of something a little more fitting. You can find plenty of helpful suggestions here if you need them.)
Could it really be: dueling faux-native, Sherman Alexie plagiarists?
I had to ask Alexie what he thought of Big Mom and the Seltzer fiasco. While I was waiting for him to get back to me after I wrote him this morning, Galleycat (those folks are quick) broke the news about the Love and Consequences/Reservation Blues similarities.
Nonetheless, here's Alexie's response to possibly having his work, yet again, borrowed by a pale-faced hoax:
“It is flattering in a sociopathic sort of way. I should start a workshop, 'How to plagiarize Sherman Alexie and get a big book deal!' I have enough cultural power that it works to mimic me. How weird is that?”