Another Memoir Controversy: Three Cups of TeaPosted April 19th, 2011 by Thomas Norman DeWolf
Greg Mortenson finds himself in hot water (no pun intended) over allegations that parts of his best-selling memoir Three Cups of Tea were fabricated. I loved this book and wrote about it on my Inheriting the Trade blog. I consider Greg Mortenson a hero in a world with far too few heroes, and a true inspiration as a writer.
This past weekend the television news show 60 Minutes ran a segment on the controversy. It was not pretty. Some critics compare Mortenson with James Frey, the author who admitted that many incidents in his bestseller A Million Little Pieces were untrue.
Mortenson responded to the allegations and defended himself in an interview with Outside Magazine.
I don’t know what to believe at this point. I want to believe Mortenson because I have such deep respect for the work I believe he is doing in building schools and educating children–particularly girls–in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I support education and peacebuilding and this is the work Mortenson has claimed to dedicate his life to.
What happens if the stories in his book turn out to be untrue? What impact does it have on the good work he has done and his plans for future good work? What impact does it have on the efforts of others doing similar work? What impact does it have on other writers?
Memoirs should be accurate reflections of an author’s recollection of the events about which she or he writes. Those of us who write in this genre create a relationship with our readers through the words on the pages of our books. Sharon Morgan and I have committed to having “Truth” stand as one of the pillars of our writing and one of the central themes of our book. This is a commitment we’ve made to ourselves, to each other, and to our future readers.
I ached inside when I read the stories about Mortenson. I cringe when I read comments attacking him. If his critics are overreacting to justifiable and understandable instances of creative license so that the narrative is compelling while remaining true, then Mortenson and his foundation will weather this storm in time. If his critics are right and Three Cups of Tea is based largely upon lies, and that other aspects of his foundation’s work is not what they have claimed, then Mortenson will justifiably have a lot to answer for.
I’m pulling for Greg Mortenson. In these troubling times we need heroes.
Eastern Mennonite University
Harlem Book Fair
Phillis Wheatley Book Award
Post Racial Society
Summer Peacebuilding Institute
Tulsa race riot
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