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Memoir As Truth-Telling: Orange is the New Black

We’re all aware of the popular Netflix drama, Orange is the New Black, but how many people were interested in the real memoir by Piper Kerman, which the series is based on?  If you look at the book’s sales after the show aired, you can see that Kerman did well for herself telling the stories of “Litchfield”‘s inmates.  The show itself has been lauded for its representation of women from all different cultures, backgrounds, and circumstances and the steps which led them to incarceration.  However, the representation of one particular inmate–Kerman/Chapman’s lover and the reason for her downfall, Alex Vause–has led her real-life persona to write her own version of what happened.

Cleary Wolters, Alex Vause’s inspiration and the alleged lockup lover of Kerman/Chapman, claims that in reality, she and Kerman never had sex in prison.  She also claims that her real-life experience is vastly different than what is portrayed in the Netflix series, so much so that she decided to write Out of Orange: A Memoir to clear up some misconceptions about her involvement in Kerman’s narrative.

According to Wolters, she and Kerman were only ever in the same facility for five weeks, when they were brought together to testify against someone else involved in their case.  In the Vanity Fair article, she says “‘We were ghosts of the humans we had once been, milling about amongst hundreds of other human ghosts, shackled and chained, prodded through transport centers at gunpoint, moved through holding facilities.'”  She also claims that, when the two were shackled together on the flight to the hearing, “Kerman refused to even speak to her.”

In this week’s reading from Joy Castro’s Family Trouble, Castro and other authors of memoir discuss the importance of balancing the truth of your story with the privacy of others, and I think that this issue is one of the most recognizable instances of someone involved in another author’s narrative taking that narrative and re-writing it to fit their truth.  Just as Lorraine López describes her sister’s response to her memoir about their childhood, which is to write her own account of the story, I think that Wolters’ decision to challenge Kerman’s narrative and lay it all out there for the reader to decide is immensely brave.  I’m really interested to read both memoirs side-by-side and gleaning what I can from them.

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