Learning from Hoaxes

Tomorrow, Thursday, November 30th, poet and nonfiction author Kevin Young will be presenting on his latest work, Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News, and in conversation with Seattle writer Melanie McFarland at Benaroya Hall. Tickets are just $10 as part of our 2017/18 Hinge Series, and they’re still available here or at the door.

In anticipation of Kevin’s talk, WITS Writer-in-Residence and SAL event staffer Letitia Cain takes us through a catalog of the fakes, the forges, and the frauds of literature, asking the hard questions about the connections between life and creative work. (Plus, she gives us a hoax-inspired writing prompt for you to try at home… carefully!)


By: Letitia Cain, WITS Writer-in-Residence & SAL Event Manager

Kevin Young’s newly released book, Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News, dives into the tradition of hoaxes with gusto. In this time of fake news stories and what feels like layers of deception, this book is released with perfect timing to delve into the historical perspective of forgeries and how they connect to race and the rise of America.

I first became interested in literary hoaxes a few years ago, while researching some of the more famous, or perhaps more accurately, infamous poetry hoaxes. This literary tradition that underlies much of modern writing fascinates and appalls simultaneously—yet it also influences how we write today, whether we realize it or not. In Bunk, Young examines not just literary hoaxes but the culture of hoaxing in America, an even broader subject that I can’t wait to read more about.

Hoaxes have a long history in literature, and some very interesting poetry emerges out of them. But first, what is a hoax? The derivation of hoax is not completely known, but the word came into usage in the eighteenth century, meaning to deceive by a fiction, and it is thought to probably be a shortened form of hocus pocus, a jugglery, trickery, first used around the 1600s. Hocus pocus is thought to be based originally on the Latin phrase hax pax max Deus adimax, a pseudo-Latin magical formula often used by jugglers or magicians. Read more…