She threw a welcome party for herself at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, a beautiful old building with black and white marble, Alice-in-Wonderland floors. The guests, more than 400 of L.A.’s literati: authors, editors, publishers, book reviewers, literary agents, the local independent presses.
Anna March whisked in and out, a flash of pink hair in a polka-dot dress. The 2015 party at the Ace’s mezzanine bar, serving free drinks, was packed to overflowing.
March had never published a book but had been quietly working literary Los Angeles’ social media connections for months. A spunky, unapologetic, sex-positive feminist ready to raise hell, she was supportive and flattering. She was also conspicuously generous — concerned about the line of people waiting to get into the party, March asked a pair of new acquaintances if she should give $20 bills to those stuck on the sidewalk. The bill for the night would total more than $22,000.
Why is she doing this? people asked, stealing glances at March.
Some had a larger question:
That was a harder question to answer than you might think. Anna March first appeared around 2011, when she started publishing online. Before that, she was known by different names in different cities. In researching this story, The Times found four: Anna March, Delaney Anderson, Nancy Kruse and Nancy Lott.
In three places — Los Angeles, San Diego and Rehoboth Beach, Del. — March became a part of the literary community. She won over new friends, even accomplished authors but especially writers trying to find a way into that world, with her generosity, her enthusiasm and apparent literary success — only to leave town abruptly.
In two others — Montgomery County, Md., and Washington, D.C. — she has had financial judgments against her, the latter for more than $380,000.
The Times reached out to March, who declined to speak on the record.
She landed in Southern California in 2014; her calling card as a writer was a recent Modern Love column in the New York Times about her relationship with fiancé Adam Pesachowitz, who has been in a wheelchair since high school. The two lived on the East Coast, then moved west, first to Santa Barbara, then to Los Angeles. March published occasional essays on Salon.com and in smaller online literary outlets such as the Rumpus.
After coming to California, she gathered writers together to advise her on the local literary landscape. She was a generous presence, picking up the tab for steak dinners at Musso & Frank.
She successfully leveraged social networks to connect with significant literary figures. She organized a series of national events with well-known writers such as Ashley Ford, Saeed Jones, Audrey Niffenegger and author of the bestselling memoir “Wild,” Cheryl Strayed.
March branded herself an intersectional feminist, sensitive to issues of race, class and LGBTQ concerns as well as gender, and also supportive of victims of trauma. She positioned herself as a connection between worlds: the published and unpublished, the successful and the hopeful.
The authors of this story crossed paths with March several times. In 2016, she gave Melissa Chadburn a prize from the Lulu Fund, which March had founded with Ford. The awards were presented at the Palm in downtown L.A. during the Assn. of Writers Programs conference. It took almost a year for Chadburn to get the $1,000 she had been promised by March. Their final email exchange was heated.
The Lulu Fund, founded in 2015 to “support racial, gender and class justice” with support from donors, posted a forward-looking plan on its site that stretched to 2020. But nine months after it launched, it shut down.
“Her vision for Lulu was something I wanted to see more of in the world and something I would still love to see more of in the world. It sounded like an opportunity to give back to the communities that had already given so much to me,” Ford told The Times. “Her abrupt decision to end Lulu was as confusing to me as anyone else.”
Although she declined to speak to The Times on the record, after receiving detailed inquiries from the paper, March posted a long response to them on a website she founded. In that posting, she wrote: “mostly what I want to say is this: I have had successes and failures. I am proud of trying to make things work. I regret my shortcomings and failures and apologize for my mistakes. I have never run from them or hidden them. In fact, I’ve tried to be open about them.”
The woman who introduced herself to Angelenos as Anna March was born Nancy Lott on June 20, 1968, and raised in Maryland, where her mother was involved in local Democratic politics.
Court records show that a Nancy Lott, with the same birth date, pleaded guilty in a case involving a political campaign. According to the Report of the Maryland State Prosecutor for fiscal year 1992, Nancy Lott was treasurer of the political campaign and was ordered to pay restitution of $18,000, receive psychiatric care and serve five years’ probation.
“Did I sign a campaign finance report with erroneous information nearly 30 years ago in 1990 when I was 21? Yes. Was I on five years probation and did I pay $18,000 in restitution? Yes,” she writes in her open letter.
The court records show that she did not complete her probation and that a judge ordered her outstanding fees turned over to Central Collections for the State of Maryland.
Later in her 20s, Lott married and split from a man in New York; she kept his name, Kruse. But she didn’t use it right away.
In the mid-1990s, she landed in San Diego, where she called herself Delaney Anderson. She headed to the Writing Center, a small San Diego nonprofit that provided classes and community for aspiring writers.
“Did I run a small struggling literary arts organization of two years — receiving a total of about $9,000 in compensation for the entire time …? Yes,” March writes in her open letter.
Anderson started as a volunteer; founder Judy Reeves says that she was so enthusiastic and full of good ideas that she hired her, making her the director in 1997. Anderson was charming, telling stories of how her mother worked for the White House and once ironed the pleats in Amy Carter’s dress. She launched a gala called Literary Lights that included a fundraising auction, and she enticed George Plimpton to come to San Diego to accept its literary prize.
As a member of the board of directors, Reeves recalls Anderson presenting sunny financial reports. But in 1998, an eviction notice appeared at the Writing Center offices. An emergency board meeting was scheduled with Anderson, but before dawn that day, she tacked a note to Reeves’ front door: I resign.
When Anderson left, Reeves says, “We had no idea how much damage had actually been done.” The furniture was sold at a garage sale. The board officially closed the Writing Center.
Reeves never did a financial reckoning of Anderson’s tenure, nor did she pursue Anderson legally. “I wasn’t looking to make any money off all this, I wanted a community,” Reeves says. “It was my dream.”
Anderson left San Diego and that name behind. Three years later, in 2001, she surfaced in the Washington, D.C., area, calling herself Nancy Kruse. She met and married film historian Andrew Smith and landed a job in direct mail fundraising at public radio station WAMU.
It was a time of transition for nonprofits: Many could see the possibility of using the internet for fundraising, but they didn’t have the expertise to begin. Kruse seized the opportunity and created a consulting firm, Nancy Kruse + Partners, with WAMU as her first client, boasting a $150,000 success on the company website.
After her apparent success for WAMU, Kruse’s company was hired to run a national online fundraising auction that encompassed 15 public radio stations, including KPCC and KQED.
The contract had landed, in part, thanks to Barbara Appleby, a public radio fundraising consultant Kruse had hired — and charmed. “She played up her Quaker background and her feminist beliefs,” recalls Appleby. “She said her mother was high up in the press office, that she was press secretary for Carter … . Why wouldn’t I believe her?”
The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library says that it has no records indicating that Kruse’s mother was ever a staff member.
In September 2004, Kruse and Partners, also known as Kruse and Associates, launched its national online auction. Each of the 15 stations paid Kruse and Partners up front, in amounts of $8,700 to $68,400, to participate.
They were to recoup that plus a share of the total. Items for sale ranged from a Birkenstock gift certificate and NPR swag to an Apple computer and high-end travel packages.
When the auction finished, revenue totaled $677,916, according to the report that Kruse sent to the stations in January 2005.
But she was slow to send the money. Kruse sent $10,000 to nine of the stations, then no more. The rest received no repayment at all.
Inside Kruse and Partners, there had been signs of trouble. Even as the auction was taking place, Kruse’s office landlord filed suit against her for five months’ back rent at $10,356 per month. Sue Winking, a fundraising professional who had joined the team, recalls that some of her co-workers’ paychecks bounced and, in her case, no deposits were made to her retirement account, even though her paychecks reflected those deductions. Appleby, instead of being paid her fee, was sent home with a promissory note for $56,629.73.
In February 2005, Kruse abruptly shut down Kruse and Partners, notifying clients by email that the company “does not have any financial assets.”
Six months later, the radio stations, under the umbrella of the Curators of the University of Missouri, filed suit against Kruse in Washington, D.C., Superior Court to recover the lost funds. They asked for, and eventually won, a judgment against her totaling more than $380,000.
March now claims that she was “cleared by a court-ordered receiver of any wrongdoing.”
In general, a receiver is a court-appointed custodian who protects and maintains property that is subject to a pending lawsuit, and does not make a ruling on the merits of the case, legal experts say.
Greg Hays, president of the National Assn. of Federal Equity Receivers, reviewed the receiver’s report about Kruse for The Times. “The court-appointed receiver reported that he did not have sufficient documents to complete his investigation,” he said. Hays noted that the receiver, in his report to the court, also said the company was “perpetually insolvent” and that it is “more than arguable that a cause of action exists against her [Kruse].” The receiver, Hays added, recommended that the creditor “pursue the claims against the defendant and that the receivership case be closed.”
The report explained that Kruse’s company “received a large volume of payments from credit card companies which represented payments on auctions” and “used those funds to make partial payment to the various public radio stations of $10,000 without any apparent regard for accounting for the proceeds. K&A appears to have used the balance of money received for those auctions to pay operating expenses and other debts. There was a complete failure to hold money in trust or to properly account for its receipts. As such, it appears that sufficient grounds exist to seek reimbursement from Nancy Kruse for conversion of what should be trust assets.”
Additionally, the report made clear that Nancy Kruse, Kruse and Associates and Kruse and Partners had been used interchangeably in contracts and bills — with the receiver arguing that Nancy Kruse was personally responsible for the debts.
The public broadcasting industry newsletter the Current followed Kruse and Partners’ work first with enthusiasm, then skepticism. After the company closed, Current reporter Jeremy Egner pursued the story — and revealed that Kruse, then calling herself Delaney Anderson, had been involved with the Writing Center and its dissolution in a 2005 story headlined, “Fundraiser’s Past a Red Flag No One Saw.”
By the time the connection had been made and the judgments filed, Kruse was gone — although, surprisingly, she hadn’t gone far.
In October 2005, when her soon-to-be ex-husband Smith was declaring bankruptcy in Washington, D.C., Kruse surfaced in Rehoboth Beach, Del., just 120 miles to the east.
Kruse didn’t reveal her recent past; instead, she wowed the small town’s writing community with tales of literary ascendancy. She told Maribeth Fischer that she had signed a two-book deal with Random House and had gone to the National Book Awards with her friend Malcolm Gladwell. Fischer recalls Kruse pointing at a picture of Gladwell in the newspaper the next day and saying that she had been just out of frame.
She told both Fischer and another local, Kent Schoch, that she had a contract to write a series for the New Yorker — Schoch traveled with her to New Orleans to research it (but wound up paying the bill). Schoch and Fischer became suspicious of Kruse’s success stories when she told them she’d received a personal phone call from Bob Dylan. When they contacted who they thought were her agent and her publisher, both said they didn’t know her.
It was midsummer of 2006 when Fischer confronted her about what she’d found. Kruse left town soon afterward, Fischer said.
The woman born Nancy Lott resurfaced five years later, in 2011, as Anna March. She was dating Adam Pesachowitz, and in December of 2012, she published her first story in Salon.com, which would remain her largest regular outlet.
March and Pesachowitz moved from the East Coast to a beach cottage in Santa Barbara. Later, they moved to the Melrose neighborhood of Los Angeles.
In person, she was both outspoken and attentive. “It’s been my experience that she has a good nose for what people need to hear,” said Ashley Perez, an emerging Los Angeles writer who was close with March for a time. She was flattering, Perez says, and “she told me she wanted to give me opportunities and I wanted to learn more — any chance I could.”
March was diligent about becoming a key literary figure in Los Angeles. But a year after her big party at the Ace Hotel, she sent an email with the subject line CONFIDENTIAL to a number of friends.
“I am writing today to ask for your help,” the email read, linking to what she called “a private crowdsource campaign” and instructing recipients, in all caps, not to share it on social media. The message referred to a temporary separation, taxes, helping her mother, a pending windfall from a property sale and an immediate financial need for unspecified medical expenses. She said she needed $9,000 (she got $6,200).
What wasn’t clear in her message was that Pesachowitz had left her, he told The Times. She had not been honest with him about her past, he says, including telling him that she was expecting an inheritance from her family. “This was a painful and costly chapter in my life,” he said. The two never married. “I am happy that I have moved on and I am now focused on recovering and rebuilding.”
After a year in Los Angeles, March departed, returning to Delaware in April 2016.
March announced a series of writing workshops that she would lead in remote, attractive locales. Such writing workshops are common. Some are independent and long established; others are connected to literary magazines and writing programs. Most have a formal application process and well-known authors as their teachers.
But March’s retreats were smaller-scale. She and one or two other people would be the writing instructors. Attendees did not need to submit writing samples to apply. They signed up by paying March in advance, amounts ranging from $400 to $3,000 to cover classes, hotel and food. Travel was not included.
During 2016 and 2017, March announced 11 workshops. One took place in a heady destination — Julia Child’s home in Provence, France. But several — slated for Joshua Tree, Palm Springs, Hawaii, Italy, Santa Monica and Rehoboth Beach — were postponed or canceled. Although it took some time, most who have asked for refunds have received them.
But one cancellation was problematic for three Angelenos: Perez; Perez’s partner, Seth Fischer; and Karen Palmer, who was to be an instructor in exchange for free room and board. They made it to Positano, Italy, in April 2017 for one of March’s writing workshops that didn’t happen.
Palmer had already arrived when, two days before it was to begin, March canceled the workshop. Perez, who comes from a working-class background, had been given a scholarship by March; Fischer had paid for the workshop. They’d bought cheap, nonrefundable airline tickets, so the two traveled to Italy anyway. At least they would have a place to stay. But they didn’t. They learned when they arrived that no rooms had been booked for the workshop at the advertised hotel.
When the retreats did happen, they didn’t always go smoothly. “I taught a cooking/writing workshop in Julia Child’s home as a way of earning money,” March writes in her open letter.
She brought Craig Clifton, a chef from the U.S., to that retreat in Provence, France, but stranded him there, owing him $1,300, Clifton says. When he asked for his money, she messaged him: “if you want to get into a public pissing match — i do not — but if you do, just remember mine comes with pictures and video. pick someone else to be rude bad boy too — i’m over it.”
At least four of her workshops, all with enrolled students, were promoted with images of the destination hotels. Representatives of those hotels, including the one in Positano, said they had no knowledge of March or her writing classes — she had not booked any rooms there.
March started a new literary project in the fall of 2016 after the election of Donald Trump: Roar, an online magazine of “literature and revolution by feminist people.” Using empowering rhetoric and online social media solicitations, March quickly attracted writers and editors looking for a way to speak out against then-President-elect Trump.
Using GoFundMe, Roar raised about $49,000, says its former executive editor, Sarah Sandman. In her open letter, March notes that Roar paid its “contributors a $25 symbolic honorarium.”
But Sandman says she had a hard time getting that money to Roar’s writers. “We were saying we were an intersectional feminist magazine promising to challenge the patriarchy,” Sandman said. “But we didn’t do what we said we would do.
“I sent spreadsheet after spreadsheet to Anna so the writers could get paid — she even told me she paid them,” she said. “I believed her until I started receiving emails from people gently asking me when they might expect payment.” Sandman left Roar.
In her open letter, March writes, “I have been working to pay Roar’s debts and will continue to do so.”
The site, which has essentially gone dormant, is where March posted her response to The Times’ questions.
Today Anna March is far from the Ace Hotel and her soirée. She now offers private literary consulting — manuscript consultations for $1,600 to $3,000 and coaching for hopeful writers to construct submissions to literary agents.
She now tells people that she has three books, not two, almost ready. She’s returned to Rehoboth, Del., where she planned a prom for adults in April to benefit a local community center, then canceled it. She had been posting photos from the local bar on social media. But, after The Times’ inquiries, she deleted her accounts.
Chadburn, a contributing editor for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Her debut novel, “A Tiny Upward Shove,” is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Kellogg is the Books editor of The Times.