Publishers, Authors Respond to Frey, Nasdijj Controversies

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In response to the continuing controversy surrounding the veracity of the memoir A Million Little Pieces, James Frey has written an author's note, now available on the Random House website. According to a statement issued by Random House imprints Doubleday and Anchor (also available on the website), Frey's note, along with a note from the publisher, will be added to new editions of the book and will be sent to bookstores that have previously stocked the title.

In the author's note, Frey apologizes for having "embellished many details about my past experiences" and explains he did so, because he "wanted the stories in the book to ebb and flow, to have dramatic arcs, to have the tension that all great stories require." He lists some of the altered events including his role in a train accident, in which he admits he was not directly involved, but was "profoundly affected by." Overall, he describes his characterization of himself and his story as a "subjective truth, altered by the mind of a recovering drug addict and alcoholic ... and one that I could not have written without having lived the life I've lived."

James Frey

The Random House statement notes that "it is not the policy or stance of this company that it doesn't matter whether a book sold as nonfiction is true. A nonfiction book should adhere to the facts as the author knows them." Throughout publication and promotion of the book, Random House said, Frey assured the house that A Million Little Pieces was true to his recollections. However, after further questioning of Frey, following The Smoking Gun's revelations, Random House determined that "a number of facts have been altered and incidents embellished."

Random House apologized to readers for any "unintentional confusion" surrounding the title and outlined the following course of action:

  • Issuing a publisher's and author's note to be included in all future printings of the book
  • Creating a new jacket for all future editions that will carry the line "With new notes from the publisher and from the author"
  • Posting a publisher's note and author's note on the website
  • Sending the publisher's note and author's note to booksellers for inclusion in previously shipped copies of the book
  • Placing advertisements concerning these developments in national and trade publications in the next few days

Doubleday spokesperson David Drake told BTW that, since Frey's author's note is written, Anchor will immediately be going back to press for a trade paperback run of 100,000 and Doubleday would be reprinting 3,500 hardcover copies with the note. Drake anticipated that copies would be available in bookstores this month.

This week, ABA added an asterisk to A Million Little Pieces on the Book Sense Bestseller List, which notes that the "American Booksellers Association and Book Sense acknowledge the controversy surrounding this title in light of statements made by the author as to the veracity of its contents."

Last week, Random House's Ballantine imprint and Houghton Mifflin were drawn into the controversy about what constitutes nonfiction, when L.A. Weekly revealed that the memoirist Nasdijj, who described himself as of Southwestern Native American descent, was really Tim Barrus, a man of Scandinavian descent who grew up in a middle-class neighborhood of Lansing, Michigan. Nasdijj/Barrus, who was interviewed by Bookselling This Week in 2000, wrote The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams (Houghton Mifflin), The Boy and His Dog Are Sleeping, and Geronimo's Bones (both Ballantine). Barrus has published something of his own rambling author's note on his blog. In it he said, "This time my crimes are literary labyrinthine mazes."

Carol Schneider, vice president, executive director of publicity and public relations for the Random House Publishing Group, told BTW that Ballantine's position is "quite simply, we are very distressed to have published two memoirs that appear to be deliberately inaccurate. We have advised booksellers that they are welcome to return the books, and we have stopped filling orders or shipping any additional copies." Schneider noted that Ballantine "learned about the questions concerning the true identity of the author only last week, although we severed our relationship with Nasdijj two years ago over issues that had absolutely nothing to do with his background."

Broaching the larger topic of the moment, Schneider said, "It's fair to say the whole publishing industry is struggling with issues of authenticity in memoir, ourselves included."

Collin Earnst, spokesperson at Houghton Mifflin, said that the Nasdijj's The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams was published six years ago and that Houghton Mifflin was "essentially out of stock." Earnst told BTW, "We absolutely stand by our returns policy as with any of our books." He added that the house had no plans to accept returns from general consumers.

Responding to the Nasdijj/Tim Barrus controversy, Time magazine published an essay by Sherman Alexie in its February 6 issue in which he charges Tim Barrus with plagiarism and with cultural exploitation. The author pinpoints the reason for his outrage: "His lies matter because he has cynically co-opted as a literary style the very real suffering endured by generations of very real Indians because of very real injustices caused by very real American aggression that destroyed very real tribes."

Alexie states that Nasdijj was not the first memoirist to misrepresent himself as Native American and mentions Asa Earl Carter, who posed as Forrest Carter, to write the Cherokee-themed memoir, The Education of Little Tree. Alexie criticizes the American Booksellers Association for giving Carter its book-of-the-year award in 1991 and contends that it was given "despite the documented fact that Carter was really Asa Carter, a rabid segregationist and the author of George Wallace's infamous war cry, 'Segregation today! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!'"

However, as ABA President Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida, stated in a letter to Time, "While Forrest Carter's The Education of Little Tree did win the American Booksellers Association's award for book of the year in 1991, at that time neither the independent booksellers who selected the winning title nor ABA were aware of any 'documented fact' that Carter was actually Asa Earl Carter, a white supremacist and a former speech writer for Alabama Governor George Wallace.

"The award was presented in April 1991, and it was only in October of that year that Emory University history professor Dan T. Carter first published an op-ed piece documenting Asa Carter's hoax."

ABA has added the following note to The Education of Little Tree on BookWeb, where it appears on a list of ABA book of the year award winners: "The Education of Little Tree was honored in April 1991 as an outstanding memoir. It was subsequently proved that author Forrest Carter was, in fact, Asa Earl Carter, an Alabama native, and that the account of his life was a hoax." --Karen Schechner