The ‘American Dirt’ Book Tour Has Been Canceled Out Of Fear Of Violence Against The Author
The controversy surrounding the most recent novel on Oprah’s Book Club “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins continues to grow. The book follows protagonist Lydia Quixano Pérez, a middle-class Mexican bookseller who escapes Acapulco with her 8-year-old son, Luca, after a drug cartel massacres their family at a quinceañera. The backlash over the novel has led to the cancelation of a book tour promoting the novel due to ‘threats of physical violence’. Here’s what’s going on.
Cummins received a big advance and a lot of promotional push for “American Dirt,” which follows a Mexican mother and son fleeing drug violence.
Oprah Winfrey picked it for her book club, and a growing number of celebrities and authors showered it with praise, some without reading the book. Critics have called the book inaccurate and full of harmful stereotypes and questioned whether Cummins was the right person to tell that story. (Despite the controversy —or maybe thanks to it— the book is selling well; it’s currently No. 1 on Amazon’s charts.)
The publisher is proud to have taken on “American Dirt.”
In a statement, Bob Miller, the president of Flatiron Books, said the publisher is proud to have published “American Dirt,” and was “therefore surprised by the anger that has emerged from members of the Latinx and publishing communities.”
Yet, he was able to understand the privilege in his surprise to the backlash.
“The fact that we were surprised is indicative of a problem, which is that in positioning this novel, we failed to acknowledge our own limits,” Miller said. “The discussion around this book has exposed deep inadequacies in how we at Flatiron Books address issues of representation, both in the books we publish and in the teams that work on them.”
The public has been blasting the author, who is white and had a Puerto Rican grandmother, for being out of her league writing about undocumented Mexican immigrants.
The backlash led to the concerns which canceled the book tour, Flatiron Books wrote in a tweeted statement on Wednesday. “While there are are valid criticisms around our promotion of this book that is no excuse for the fact that in some cases there have been threats of physical violence,” Miller explains. He added that it was sad that Cummins had become “the recipient of hatred from within the very communities she sought to honor,” and that her “work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor.”
He also apologized for giving the impression the author’s husband might have been Mexican, and addressed other specific issues around the promotion of the book.
“We made serious mistakes in the way we rolled out this book. We should never have claimed that it was a novel that defined the migrant experience,” Miller stated. “We should not have said that Jeanine’s husband was an undocumented immigrant while not specifying that he was from Ireland; we should not have had a centerpiece at our bookseller dinner last May that replicated the book jacket so tastelessly. We can now see how insensitive those and other decisions were, and we regret them.”
Several Mexican authors have expressed their discomfort with the harmful depictions in “American Dirt.”
Julissa Arce Raya, the author of “My (Underground) American Dream,” argued that “American Dirt” was not representative of her experience as an undocumented immigrant in America. Author Celeste Ng shared a review calling Cummins’ depictions of Mexico “laughably inaccurate.”
Roxane Gay deplored Oprah’s decision to elevate the novel.
The New York Times bestselling author of “Bad Feminist,” argued that “to see a book like this elevated by Oprah…legitimizes and normalizes flawed and patronizing wrong-minded thinking about the border and those who cross it.” “I hope this makes people realize how conservative publishing really is,” Myriam Gurba, a Mexican American writer, told the Guardian.
About the seven-figure advance she reportedly earned, Cummins said:
“I was never going to turn down money that someone offered me for something that took me seven years to write. I acknowledge that there is tremendous inequity in the industry, about who gets attention for writing what books.”
Cummins spoke about the doubts she had about writing the book at a Jan. 22 event in Baltimore.
“I lived in fear of this moment, of being called to account for myself: ‘Who do you think you are,’” she told bookshop manager Javier Ramirez, according to The Guardian. “And, in the end, the people who I met along the way, the migrants who I spoke to, the people who have put themselves in harm’s way to protect vulnerable people, they showed me what real courage looks like. They made me recognize my own cowardice. When people are really putting their lives on the line, to be afraid of writing a book felt like cowardice.”
The author had made a handful of promotional appearances since the book was released.
Over the past few days however, the St Louis-based Left Bank Books called off an event and Flatiron canceled interviews in a pair of California stores. The tour for her heavily promoted book had been scheduled to last at least through mid-February, with planned stops everywhere from Seattle to Oxford, Mississippi.
Oprah announced she’ll meet with Cummins and their conversation will be broadcast in an upcoming Apple TV special.
Flatiron now plans to send Cummins to town-hall-style events, where the author will be joined by “some of the groups who have raised objections to the book.”