Female Gang-Banging Memoirist Is More Fiction Than Fact

In the biggest literary hoax since... well, last week, when that Holocaust memoir turned out to be entirely fabricated, 33-year-old Margaret B. Jones, whose new memoir of foster homes and gang violence, Love and Consequences, has been revealed to be a hoax by the New York Times. In Love and Consequences, Jones — actually Margaret "Peggy" Seltzer — claims to have grown up in South Central L.A., running drugs for the Bloods and watching her foster brothers gunned down by gang members. In reality, Peggy grew up in the sheltered L.A. suburb Sherman Oaks, and attended private Episcopal academy the Campbell Hall School in North Hollywood (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are fellow Campbell Hall alums). The story even has a soap opera twist: Peggy's sister, 47-year-old Cyndi Hoffman, is the one who blew the whistle on her.

Hoffman realized the book had been published after seeing a photo of Peggy and her daughter, Rya, in the Times' "Home & Garden" section last week. That story described Peggy's pink hoodie, "gangland slang" and acrylic nails, and congratulated her for her grit in overcoming her underprivileged existence. (Sample passage: "'The first time my o. g. visited me here'" — meaning original gangster, the gang's leader — 'he slept 20 hours straight. In L.A. your anxiety is so high you sleep three hours a night.'") The Times had been creaming themselves over Love and Consequences until the fabrication news broke. In addition to the "Home & Garden" profile, the notoriously poison-tongued and powerful book critic Michiko Kakutani had given Love an outright rave.

Sarah McGrath, Peggy's editor at Riverhead (the same imprint that published James Frey's My Friend Leonard), is devastated. "It's very upsetting to us because we spent so much time with this person and we felt such sympathy for her and she would talk about how she didn't have any money or any heat and we completely bought into that and thought we were doing something good by bringing her story to light," McGrath told the Times. McGrath added: "There was a way to do this book honestly and have it be just as compelling." (McGrath is absolutely correct. If you want to read a well-researched book about the inner city world of drug running, try Random Family by Adrien Nicole LeBlanc.)

Peggy sounds only semi-contrite about lying her way to a book deal. "For whatever reason, I was really torn and I thought it was my opportunity to put a voice to people who people don't listen to...I was in a position where at one point people said you should speak for us because nobody else is going to let us in to talk." Peggy did work with gang members in South Central and, for a time, attended Grant High in a poor section of the Valley; she based the book on the experiences of those around her. "Trust no one. Even your own momma will sell you out for the right price or if she gets scared enough," she writes in Love and Consequences. Sadly, book editors may have to start heeding that advice more and more.

Author Admits Acclaimed Memoir Is Fantasy [New York Times]

A Refugee From Gangland [New York Times]

However Mean the Streets, Have an Exit Strategy [New York Times]

Gangbanger Margaret B. Jones Is Really Peggy Seltzer, Valley Girl [Mediabistro]

Why Do We Keep Publishing Fake Memoirists? [Mediabistro]

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