Listeners Speak Out on Margaret Seltzer

Listeners and bloggers weigh in on the week's stories. Hear feedback about Margaret Seltzer's fabricated memoir Love and Consequences. And, a recent story about three generations of one family living on the same street prompts listeners to share their own story.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now it's time for Backtalk, where we lift the curtain on conversations happening on the TELL ME MORE blog and get a chance to hear from you. Lee Hill, our Web producer, joins me here in the studio, as always. Hey Lee. Not that it's been a long week or anything, but what's up?

LEE HILL: Hey Michel, well I don't even need to ask you whether or not that was a joke because you and I both know this week has been one big ball of action around here.

Margaret B. Jones, or shall I say Peggy, or is it Margaret Seltzer? Well, these are all the names of a woman who fabricated a gripping memoir. Now, you can read the full story on our blog, but Margaret Seltzer wrote a book claiming to be half white, half Native-American, a foster child who grew up poor in South Central Los Angeles, where she witnessed gun violence firsthand, delivered drugs, later beating the odds and going on to college. Seltzer told TELL ME MORE it was a struggle.

Ms. MARGARET SELTZER (Author, "Love and Consequences"): Since moving to South Central, I'd gotten used to walking past homeless people and their shopping carts recycling trains every day. One woman had her shopping carts tied together two wide and five long, each cart holding a different kind of recycling.

I walked by her, the crackheads, the home bums and the winos. I bet when they were my age, none of them thought they would end up sleeping on the streets or in MacArthur Park when they grew up.

HILL: Well as you've heard from this program and probably from several other media outlets, Seltzer just about made the whole thing up. She's white, went to private school, never lived in South Central, which is now called South L.A. Well, of course we decided not to air the complete conversation, although we did post it on our Web site, and we also had a conversation about why people feel compelled to mislead their readers.

Now Michel, you and I both know it didn't take long at all for people to ring us up on the phone and comment on our blog. Here's Anna, who is glad we did post the original interview with Seltzer as a Web exclusive.

ANNA (Listener): I'm always suspect of memoirs and autobiographies. Knowing absolutely nothing about this young woman or the others doesn't lead me to want to psychoanalyze her or to judge her too harshly.

On the other hand, the follow-up story you did with the authors who studied, the hoaxes, was fascinating, and I also appreciate you putting the complete interview up with the author. I think it was a testament to your bravery and integrity to give us the inside scoop on how she presented herself and the way you felt about the book and her. That's real-life drama I can get into.

HILL: Well thanks, Anna, and we also heard this from Andrea.

ANDREA (Listener): I do not understand the pathology of lying, but I think that if these authors who fabricate such horrific traumas had really lived the lives they pretend to, they would hopefully have more respect for the hard lives some have to endure.

I am working on a memoir about growing up in a domestic violent household, and I would hate for my mother's story to be diminished in any way because of people who lie for profit. Hers is a story that really should be told.

MARTIN: Thanks, Andrea, and it does not surprise me that people have a lot to say about this. I should also mention that we are still reaching out to Margaret, because we'd like to give her an opportunity to respond to all of this if she chooses. I know a lot of people, including me, are still wondering what she was thinking.

Lee, moving on, I see we got feedback about the chat we had with the Tolsons(ph). In case you missed the conversation, the Tolsons are a family of three generations - grandparents, kids and grandkids - living on the same street in a Maryland suburb, and they seem to love it.

And we asked you out there to tell us about your experience sharing close quarters with family. P.M. wrote to us. Obviously we know her full name, but she asked not to share it with you on the air, saying her situation is not as pleasant.

She writes: I'm a single woman in my 50s with no children. My sister and I had lived about two hours apart. We regularly visited each other, and I was close to my nephews. Ten years ago, my sister had to move a considerable distance. I decided to move to the same town and now live about two blocks away.

At first, all went well, but the close proximity started to have a negative effect on our relationship. We rarely talk with each other. It has been very painful. Sometimes it doesn't turn out as well as it did for the people in your story.

Well, we thank you for writing to us, and we do hope she's able to smooth things over with her sister.

HILL: That is a tough one.

MARTIN: Anything else, Lee?

HILL: Well of course there is, Michel, but folks will have to go to our blog.

MARTIN: Well thank you. Good plug for the blog. Remember to tell us more about what you think and see what other listeners are saying. Go to npr.org/tellmemore and blog it out.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today.

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