What Happened to Harvard Plagiarist Kaavya Viswanathan Anyway? How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life…Updated
I just learned of Kaavya’s recent tragedy. Her parents were in a fatal airplane crash recently. My deepest sympathy for her loss. Her neurosurgeon father was the pilot of a small plane and her obstetrician mother was the passenger. The cause of the crash is still being determined.
…and how Kaavya Viswanathan, then 17-years-old and a freshman at Harvard University, Got Rich, Got Caught, And Got Ruined.
I happened to find a copy of the book that I heard to much about at my favorite bookstore in the overrun bins. It was reported that her book was yanked from the shelves and destroyed which is little sad but happily this copy and few others have survived. My 5th grader read it and liked it and while she hasn’t read many YA books referenced in her book, it will be fun to read them and find the similar passages. Kaaya’s plagiarized book list reads like a who’s who of YA authors. (Actually, that might be a fun post for my other blog!).
This post, however, is the story of Kaavya, a successful college student (pre-med at Harvard no less), who got a reported $500,000 publishing contract and then published a young adult novel (about an Indian American girl who gets into Harvard) that was fraught with egregious examples of blatant plagiarism. The full extant is actually rather impressive in its depth and breadth. If you remove her plagiarism from this novel, it appears that her book becomes Swiss Cheese with holes everywhere.
The sad thing is that Kaavya was very young and also pre-med at Harvard. Having “been-there-done-that” myself, I know that this is an academically challenging load. No doubt that her book commitments coincided with mid-terms, finals and life in college. I suspect that if she just had more time, say the summer off to write her book or even an extra year, she would have written a similarly engaging book minus the assist via other authors. Can you really blame her for poor judgement? Yes and no but at the end of the day, it was the error of an immature teen. Not fully formed. Not fully baked. And Crispie from being in several simultaneous pressure cookers.
My 5th grader was intrigued with both the book and the plagiarism and we both wondered what happens when the media storm is so intense yet the child — and really, she’s just a child — is promising and clearly talented. Does it all turn out right in the end, minus lifelong embarrassment not to mention permanent lifelong detention?
Happily, she has landed on her feet. Kaavya, while no publisher will touch her with a ten foot pole as yet, is now a law student. Her dad is a doctor so kudos to her for forging a new path. She is a student at Georgetown Law which is not shabby at all, and has summer interned at a prestigious law firm.
So what is the lesson here kids? I think that it’s stay true to yourself and that like the story in Zen Shorts, good news is also bad news, which is the philosophy of 4th Century Chinese philosopher, Chuang Tzu. And take the path less trodden. And don’t lie, steal or cheat. Or… if you are good at that, become an attorney!
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