Oprah Winfrey has pulled a discredited children’s book, Forrest Carter’s “The Education of Little Tree,” from a list of recommended titles on her Web site, blaming an archival “error” for including a work considered the literary hoax of a white supremacist.
“The archived listing was posted in error and has been removed,” Winfrey spokeswoman Angela DePaul told The Associated Press on Tuesday, adding that she did not know long “Little Tree” had been on the site.
The AP had inquired last week about “The Education of Little Tree,” which was featured on www.oprah.com with “The Color Purple,” “The Grapes of Wrath” and other “guaranteed page-turners from Oprah’s personal collection.” The list can also be linked to in-store computer searches at Barnes & Noble.
First published in 1976, “The Education of Little Tree” was supposedly the real-life story of an orphaned boy raised by his Cherokee grandparents; the book became a million seller and sentimental favorite. In 1991, the American Booksellers Association gave “Little Tree” its first ever ABBY award, established “to honor the ‘hidden treasures’ that ABA bookstore members most enjoyed recommending.”
But suspicions about Carter, who died in 1979, began in his lifetime, and were raised significantly in the early 1990s, not long after the book won the ABBY. Carter was identified as Asa Earl Carter, a member of the Ku Klux Klan and speechwriter for former Alabama governor George Wallace who wrote Wallace’s infamous vow: “Segregation today! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”
“‘Little Tree’ is a lovely little book, and I sometimes wonder if it is an act of romantic atonement by a guilt-ridden white supremacist, but ultimately I think it is the racial hypocrisy of a white supremacist,” says author Sherman Alexie, whose books include “Ten Little Indians” and the young adult novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” a nominee this year for a National Book Award.
“I am surprised, of course, that Winfrey would recommend it,” says Lorene Roy, president of the American Library Association. “Besides the questions about the author’s identity, the book is known for a simplistic plot that used a lot of stereotypical imagery.”
Winfrey had long been aware of the book’s background and has acknowledged she once was a fan. She discussed “Little Tree” on her TV show in 1994, recalling a “loving story about a boy growing up with his grandfather and learning about nature and speaking to the trees. And it’s very spiritual.”
When Winfrey learned the truth about Carter, she felt she “had to take the book off my shelf.”
“I no longer — even though I had been moved by the story — felt the same about this book,” she said in 1994. “There’s a part of me that said, ‘Well, OK, if a person has two sides of them and can write this wonderful story and also write the segregation forever speech, maybe that’s OK.’ But I couldn’t — I couldn’t live with that.”
According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of industry sales, “Little Tree” has sold about 11,000 copies in 2007. It was originally released by the Delacorte Press, then reissued a decade later by the University of New Mexico Press, which still publishes the book.
Winfrey has endorsed at least one other work that was eventually disputed: James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces,” a memoir of addiction and recovery that she chose for her book club in 2005. After learning the book contained extensive fabrications, Winfrey chewed out the author on her show, but never withdrew her pick. “A Million Little Pieces” is still listed on her Web site.