Book

Impostors: Literary Hoaxes and Cultural Authenticity

Cover of the book titled "Impostors: Literary Hoaxes and Cultural Authenticity."

Christopher L. Miller, the Frederick Clifford Ford Professor of French and professor of African American studies

(University of Chicago Press)

Impostors” examines a series of literary hoaxes, deceptions that involved flagrant acts of cultural appropriation. This book looks at authors who posed as people they were not, in order to claim a different ethnic, class, or other identity. These writers were literary usurpers and appropriators who trafficked in what Christopher L. Miller terms the “intercultural hoax.”

In the United States, such hoaxes are familiar. Forrest Carter’s “The Education of Little Tree” and JT LeRoy’s “Sarah” are two examples. Miller studies hoaxes beyond the United States, employing a comparative framework and contrasting French and African identity hoaxes with some of their better-known American counterparts. In France, multiculturalism is generally eschewed in favor of universalism, and there should thus be no identities (in the American sense) to steal. However, as Miller demonstrates, French universalism can only go so far and do so much. There is plenty of otherness to appropriate, he contends. This French and Francophone tradition of imposture has never received the study it deserves, he believes. “Impostors” examines hoaxes in both countries, finding similar practices of deception and questions of harm.

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