Literary Hoaxes

April 1, 2016

Instead of my usual “Fun Facts Friday” post, I thought that for April Fools I might list some of my favorite historical literary hoaxes.

  1. In 1794, William Henry Ireland faked a mortgage deed supposedly signed by William Shakespeare. Ireland claimed to have more artifacts (letters, receipts and contracts) but was soon discovered to be a fake, especially after a supposedly new play was performed. Ireland did become a London celebrity for a while.
  2. Author Clifford Irving claimed reclusive billionaire Howard Hues hired him to write a biography, claiming Hues was a fan. McGraw-Hill jumped at the opportunity and the writing began. Mr. Irving would have gotten away with the “biography”, but Howard Hues broke his long media silence in 1972 to denounce Irving. After 17 months in Jail Irving wrote a book about the affair titled The Hoax which was later made into a movie.
  3. After the death of American hero Davy Corkett an autobiography was published Col. Crockett’s Exploits and Adventures in Texas, written by himself. The book became a best seller but later discovered to be hoax written by newspaper editor and lawyer n Richard Penn Smith who compiled the information from resources both real and fiction filling in the rest from his own imagination.
  4. Protocols of the Elders of Zion is considered one of the most dangerous literary hoaxes in history and is credited with many deaths. This hoax was written by a member of the Russian secret police in the early 20th Century and was used as the basis for anti-Semitic violance in czarist Russia and elsewhere. The document was quoted by Hitler in Mein Kampf and was used as Nazi propaganda. This hoax is so successful that it is still quoted today.
  5. The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter, a 1976 autobiography of a Native American Cherokee sold more than 9 million copies. The book was, in fact, written by a member of the Ku Klux Klan, White Citizens Council, and 1970 Georgia white supremacist gubernatorial candidate.
  6. In the early 1980s, the German newspaper Stern announced they’ve gotten a hold on diaries written by Adolph Hitler documenting his rise to power. Once the documents were released though they were not only proven to fakes, but bad fakes at that (handwriting didn’t match, content has been plagiarized, they were created using materials which didn’t exist at the time).
  7. Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat was invited to the Oprah Winfrey show twice to promote his memoir Angel at the Fence. The story revolves around Mr. Rosenblat meeting his wife in the Buchenwald concentration camp were she threw him apples from across the fence. After being debunked by scholars the author said “I wanted to bring happiness to people”.
  8. J.T. LeRoy, a former male  prostitute, cross-dressing, HIV-positive teenage boy wrote his biography Sarah which became a national best-seller. J.T. was actually an invented character by Laura Albert, who also wrote articles as J.T. to several magazines.
  9. A Million Little Pieces (2006) by James Frey documented his drug addiction journey in hospitals, jail and rehab was launched to success thanks to Oprah Winfrey, but was soon discovered to be riddled with inconsistencies.
  10. Kaavya Viswanathan, a brilliant writer from New Jersey, got her first book deal as a freshman in Harvard. Her book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got A Life (2006) was received very well and an initial print of 100,000 copies was done. A fan of author Megan McCafferty noticed similarities to her book and wrote the author. Ms. Viswanathan defended her work citing photographic memory.

Zohar – Man of la Book

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