Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Fraudulent memoirs and disability

In the aftermath of the James Frey uproar, other stranger-than-fiction memoirs are turning out to be more fiction than fact. The latest such exposure reaches into the literature of disability: a Navajo author who wrote books about raising an adopted son with fetal alcohol syndrome, about caring for another adopted son with AIDS, and having other experiences with disability, turns out not to be Navajo, and not to have raised such sons. The LA Weekly has the whole sordid--really sordid--tale of deceit (thanks to Ralph Luker at Cliopatria for the tip on this one). Readers weren't the only ones fooled; "Nasdijj" the writer (aka Tim Barrus) won prestigious literary awards and glowing reviews in major newspapers. This scandal has a disability-blogging angle, too--apparently Barrus's wife ran an autism blog.

If you're interested in exploring more about disability and life-writing, you can't go wrong with G. Thomas Couser's books, Vulnerable Subjects: Ethics and Life Writing (Cornell University Press 2004), and Recovering Bodies: Illness, Disability, and Life Writing (University of Wisconsin Press 1997), or any of his journal articles on the same subject. If you've ever read a disability-themed biography or parenting memoir that felt somehow "wrong," Couser can probably explain why it had that effect, and then proceed to point out ten other ethical missteps in the book that maybe you hadn't caught.