The Times just posted a fascinating follow-up article on the saga of fake memoirist Magaret Seltzer, the well-off white lady who pretended to be a half-Native American gangbanger raised by a foster parent in the ghetto. In it, we learn that none of the editors or publishers involved in the publication of Seltzer's book or subsequent articles about it feels particularly badly about not detecting Seltzer's lies, because the author lied like a crazy person, enlisted a couple of fake foster siblings and it's not like anyone saw this coming. "The one thing we wish," Riverhead Books publisher Geoffrey Kloske told the Times, "is that the author had told us the truth." Kloske's people, along with the Times itself, were suspicious enough that they did some fact checking, but couldn't manage more than the sad and weak sort of fact checking sadly lacking in primary sources. Here, for example, is how Penguin Group editor Sarah McGrath plumbed the depths of Seltzer's background, or, uh, didn't:
Margaret Seltzer, the pretend gang member who wrote a fake memoir about her made-up life, is one more liar who is simultaneously ruining the memoir genre and making it more popular than ever. Sarah McGrath, daughter of New York Times writer-at-large Charles, is also taking the fall as Seltzer's bamboozled editor. While hating on nepotism is more fun than a Hot Chip dance party, easy attacks on the McGrath family are pointless. Like anyone else, Sarah McGrath's connections have no doubt helped her, but no one bases a publishing career on a name alone. This scandal could have happened to any editor responding to the memoir craze, not just one with dad Chip at the Times and brother Ben at the New Yorker. After all, the McGrath family slogan is "Salvation by Faith," not "Salvation by Networking."
Before her publisher Penguin Group realized she was a liar and recalled her memoir, Margaret Seltzer gave an interview on Penguin's website and, probably, in press kits distributed to book reviewers. The interview is chock-full of quotes from Seltzer about her life as an impoverished gang banger raised in a Los Angeles ghetto by a foster parent called "Big Mom." The statements of course look absurd and hilarious, since everyone now knows Seltzer was raised by her biological parents in a nice suburb, where she attended private school and was not a member of a gang at all. Go read Seltzer's lies, issued under her pen name "Margaret Jones," while they are still up on Penguin's website, or just take in highlights, after the jump.
Before being exposed as a fabrication, Margaret Seltzer's memoir "Love and Consequences" received quite a bit of flattering notice in the Times. Michiko Kakutani wrote a glowing review praising, among other things, Seltzer's "amazing job" at recreating the South Central neighborhood where it turned out she had never lived. Seltzer was also the subject, improbably, of a friendly "Home & Garden" section profile, which consisted mainly of Seltzer telling fabricated stories about her life and lounging around "a four-bedroom 1940s bungalow" whose interior is described in the profile in random asides — a "soft black vinyl chair" here, a "small art table" there. All the more interesting, then, that Seltzer's book was shepherded into print over the course of three years by Penguin Group editor Sarah McGrath, whose father is an active writer for the Times and was, for eight years starting in 1995, the editor of the New York Times Book Review.
Meet Margaret Seltzer, pen name Margaret Jones, who until this week was a half-white, half-Indian gangland drug runner who grew up a foster child in predominately black South Central Los Angeles. Her memoir was hailed as a "raw... remarkable book" in the Times, won her tentative online admirers and became the 28th best selling memoir on Amazon after it was released Friday. Of course Seltzer basically made her whole "memoir" up, being entirely white, having grown up in the predominately white San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, having gone to a fancy private school and having been raised by her biological family. Her book tour was supposed to start today in Eugene, Oregon but her publisher, a division of Penguin Group, has canceled all that and recalled her books. How did she get caught? Her lies worked too well: