When Philip Roth attempted to correct a Wikipedia entry about his novel 'The Human Stain,' he was told he needed secondary sources.
Courtesy of Nancy Crampton/Simon and Schuster
Wikipedia is designed to be an encyclopedia edited by everyone. Users can go into the website and fix mistakes they find in entries (or, in some notorious cases, introduce misinformation). But author Philip Roth found himself up against the site’s administrators when he tried to correct an entry about one of his own books.
Roth attempted to edit the Wikipedia entry on his novel “The Human Stain,” which stated that the book was “allegedly inspired by the life of the writer Anatole Broyard.” Roth said that the book was in fact inspired by something that happened to a friend of his who worked as a professor at Princeton University.
When he tried to correct the entry, Roth got a letter from the administrator of the English Wikipedia, who said he needed secondary sources to back up his correction.
“I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work,” read the letter, “but we require secondary sources.”
Roth wrote an open letter about the incident to The New Yorker, which was published last week. In it, he detailed the way he found inspiration for "The Human Stain" in the life of his friend the professor – and not in the life of Anatole Broyard.
The entry has now been fixed and includes a description of the incident.