The Interview with James Frey that Never Happened

Response to “Faking It: Literary Hoaxes and the Ethics of Authorship,” The New Yorker, December 10, 2018

In 2008, I had scheduled an interview with James Frey, to be conducted on stage at the Annual Conference of the American Library Association in Anaheim, California. Even though we discussed the interview at length over the telephone, Frey cancelled at the last minute amid the controversy created by Oprah Winfrey’s public scolding of him for fictionalizing his memoir, A Million Little Pieces. I accepted the branding of Frey as a liar without question and assumed that his excuse for cancelling (a sick child) was also a lie. In helping me prepare a chapter on Oprah Winfrey for my book Reading with the Stars, her staff saved me from including a petty comment about Frey’s bogus excuse for chickening out of the interview. They told me that in fact Frey’s newborn son had died. Oprah Winfrey eventually apologized to Frey for the damage to his life and career the “scandal” caused. Perhaps she realized, as I did, that Frey had simply been the victim of the bad judgment of his publisher. All the shame and blame could have been avoided with a simple caveat in the introduction, like the one I wrote in the afterword to my recent memoir Busia: “While the events and people portrayed in this book are drawn from memory, many details have been invented or fictionalized for the sake of the story. Some events are composites of actual events that took place at different times.”

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