The Education of Little Tree – heartwarming tale or major league hoax?

It’s a heartwarming tale: a small Cherokee boy is raised by his aging grandparents and taught to love the land and be tolerant of others. It is “the way” of the Cherokee tribe, and the writing is simple, ironic, and at times hilarious.

The Education of Little Tree was written not by a person raised by the Cherokees in the mountains of East Tennessee but by a Ku Klux Klansman and former speechwriter for George Wallace when he was running his racist campaign for governor of Alabama in the early 1960s.

Despite the full knowledge of its author and background, The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter (aka Asa Carter in his Alabama days) is still read and discussed in high school literature classes across the nation.

This American Life, the excellent public radio show produced in Chicago, has a compelling 35-plus minute podcast 180 Degrees – This American Life ) that takes a deep dive into the fascinating story of this book and its author. Here’s how the folks there describe it.:

Alex Blumberg takes us to an American classroom where students are reading a classic, The Education of Little Tree, by Forrest Carter. The book is marketed as a simple homespun autobiography of a Cherokee orphan. But public radio documentarian Joe Richman explains that the book is not at all what it seems. The origins of the heartwarming tale of respect for nature and tolerance, are actually filled with hatred, racism and lies.

Can a piece of art — literature, painting, whatever — stand apart from its creator? The question is a haunting one, and there’s no easy answer. It’s something we’ll explore in future posts.

If you’re interested in the topic, take a look at this article on literary hoaxes published recently in the New Yorker: Literary Hoaxes and the Ethics of Authorship | The New Yorker

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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