Day Three in the Opal Mehta scandal.
If you haven't been following the latest plagiarism scandal, let me bring you up-to-date. This weekend, the Harvard Crimson reported that, in writing her debut novel, one of Harvard's stars had apparently plagiarized parts of another writer's YA novel.
Kaavya Viswanathan is now a sophomore at Harvard. On February 23, 2005, Publishers' Marketplace reported that the then 17-year-old freshman had received "just under $500,000 for two books," including her first novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got In (HOMGKGWAGI). Opal is about a lovely teenager who has been following the life plan developed by her parents a decade earlier, only to find that she is not considered Harvard material because she is such a nerd. Opal sets out to change things and get into Harvard.
The New York Times has published three articles (and one arts brief) on Kaavya this month. The first appeared on April 6, two days after her novel was released. The second and third came out this week.
According to the first article, Kaavya denies that she is Opal. She does admit, however, that her parents "hired Katherine Cohen, founder of IvyWise, a private counseling service, and author of ''Rock Hard Apps: How to Write the Killer College Application.'' At the time IvyWise charged $10,000 to $20,000 for two years of college preparation services, spread over a student's junior and senior years." Not only did Kaavya get accepted at Harvard, after reading a sample of the teenager's writing, Cohen referred the teenager to the William Morris Agency, which also represents Cohen. Jennifer Rudolph Walsh became Kaavya's agent and put her in touch with a book packager that specializes in YA novels, Alloy Entertainment. Alloy and Kaavya share the copyright for HOMGKGWAGI. Little, Brown published the debut novel.
The problems started last week when Random House, owner of Crown Publishing, sent a letter to Little, Brown, complaining of copyright infringement. It's reputed that a fan of author Megan McCafferty had contacted Crown to point out similarities in Kaavya's new novel and McCafferty's earlier works published in 2001 and 2003.
This past weekend, the Crimson reported that there were a number of sections, including one 14-word passage, in HOMGKGWAGI that were very similar to Megan McCafferty's "Sloppy Firsts." Kaavya refused to give the Crimson a comment saying according to the Times, "No comment. I have no idea what you are talking about."
Kaavya had changed her tune by yesterday (Monday). Then Little, Brown issued a statement from her saying, "When I was in high school, I read and loved two wonderful novels by Megan McCafferty, 'Sloppy Firsts' and 'Second Helpings,' which spoke to me in a way few other books did." She continued, "Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel, 'How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,' and passages in these books." (NewJersey.com)
Kaavya also said "that future printings of the novel would be revised to 'eliminate any inappropriate similarities' and that an acknowledgment to Ms. McCafferty would be added." (NY Times)
In an article scheduled for tomorrow's New York Times, Steve Ross, Crown's publisher, said that, "based on the scope and character of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act."
It seems that Ms. McCafferty's publisher was not impressed by Kaavya's apology. "Mr. Ross added that Crown had not ruled out legal action. 'Right now this is in the hands of our lawyers,' he said. "We're waiting to see what their recommendations are." (NY Times)
This is my third blog this year on literary hoaxes and plagiarism. Since January, we've had J.T. LeRoy, James Frey, Nasdijj and Ben Domenech. Now Kaavya Viswanathan joins their ranks. Notorious company to be keeping at age nineteen.