Friday, July 20, 2012


How ironic that I sought solace today by finally finishing THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE by Forrest Carter. This engaging story allowed me to escape to the mountains of Tennessee at various times over the past month. I’d understood from the back cover that it was autobiographical, a fact that led me to tears earlier this week during one especially heartbreaking scene involving the main character, a boy of Cherokee heritage who lives with his aging grandparents.

Then I finished the book, decided to do a little research about the author, and immediately found this 2007 post on Turtle Talk, the blog for the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University College of Law: Indian Frauds: “The Education of Little Tree” and Oprah’s Book Club.

Turns out Forrest Carter was actually “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!’” And THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE is a work of complete fiction.

I’d been duped. Still, I’m glad I read THE  EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE before I knew these facts. This is a beautifully written book, despite now-obvious stereotypes I’d read as true depictions of characters’ attributes and actions. 

And I’m thankful I found Turtle Talk and its post on this book. The post’s comments stand as an especially helpful addendum as they debate everything from the complexities of racism to the impact of learning a writer’s intentions to whether a work should be left to stand on its own—or dismissed if it’s revealed to be other than expected. These are complicated issues. But as those of us in Colorado have learned so painfully this difficult summer, life is complicated. What’s important is that we keep talking, and listening, and learning as we strive to understand the world in which we live...even as that world reveals itself to be much more deceptive and disturbing than we want to think.

I’ll opt to take away from the Turtle Talk discussion of THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE true solace from the wise words of one reader:

“I am Cherokee and I did live in the Blue Ridge Mountains at a very young age until I grew into my late teens. KKK or not, Carter did capture the importance and strong ties of family among the Cherokee. It’s how we survived. Forget and forgive. And strive for peace.”