Accusations that Dave Eggers “ripped off” the memoir of a former Facebook employee in his new novel, “The Circle,” are raising difficult questions about plagiarism and gender bias in the publishing world.
Kate Losse, author of “The Boy Kings,” in which Losse dishes on life inside Facebook, has accused Eggers of “rewrit[ing] my book as his own novel” in a blog post on medium.com.
“From all appearances, it is an unnervingly similar book, and I wrote it first (and I imagine mine is more authentic and better written, because I actually lived and worked in this world and am also a good writer),” she writes. “The difference is that Eggers is a famous man and I am not.”
Losse has admitted that she has not read Eggers’ book (excerpted here in the New York Times), but says that “if you look at the description/plot arc/main character name it is disturbingly similar.”
Both Losse’s memoir and Eggers’ novel examine the life of a woman working her way up through a tech company, Facebook in Losse’s case and a fictional company called The Circle in Eggers’.
But perhaps more interesting than Losse’s claim itself is the issue it raises about plagiarism and gender bias in the publishing world.
Plagiarism and fraud charges are nearly as old as literature itself (see: Jonah Lehrer, James Frey, even Jane Goodall and Greg Mortenson), which brings us to wonder at what point is it considered “inspiration,” and when does it cross the line into outright stealing, plagiarism, or fraud?
Art imitates life, as such works as Curtis Sittenfeld’s “American Wife,” (clearly a portrait of Laura Bush), and Joe Klein’s “Primary Colors,” (a thinly veiled account of the Clintons) can attest to.
And then there’s the argument that everything has already been written and good literature is merely intelligent recycling.
Eggers’ prior books on the Lost Boys of Sudan and Katrina survivors certainly follow this model, though in these cases he named sources for his material, while he neglects to do so in “The Circle,” according to Losse.
Not having read either book, it is still unclear to us whether or not Eggers “ripped off” of Losse’s book and whether or not he must pay her credit.
What is perhaps more interesting is Losse’s rumination as to why the media ignored her and “The Boy Kings,” and lavished praise on Eggers and “The Circle.” The culprit, according to her: gender bias.
Writes Losse, “our work is supposedly minor, less valuable, and limited to the personal, where the work of a white man is presumed to be 'universal', 'essential', and relevant to all. This assumption is how, when I published 'The Boy Kings' ... the media made the sexist assumption that this book was not important, because how could a woman writing about technology be important?”
She continues, “The assumption the media makes in these instances is that something is not important unless a familiar, male white face does it. So, when Dave Eggers decided to rewrite my book as his own novel about a young woman working her way up through Facebook, [the media heaped praise on him].”
What’s not clear to us is whether, in this case, the attention paid to Eggers’ novel is due simply to his famous name and not his gender. Though gender bias in literature is real, we tend to think in this case Eggers’ received more attention than Losse simply because he is far more famous.
Still, Losse’s accusation raises important – and difficult – questions for the publishing world.
What do you think? Is this a case of gender bias? Did Eggers steal Losse’s premise, or was it merely inspiration?
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.