American Dirt author Jeanine Cummins’ book tour cancelled after threats

The book was poised to become one of this year’s biggest books but has received much backlash

Author Jeanine Cummins: ‘I come from a family, like most people in [THE US], with mixed ethnicity. We are Irish or Puerto Rican’.  Photograph: Heather Sten/The New York Times

Author Jeanine Cummins: ‘I come from a family, like most people in [THE US], with mixed ethnicity. We are Irish or Puerto Rican’. Photograph: Heather Sten/The New York Times

 

Flatiron Books, the publisher of “American Dirt,” said Wednesday that it was cancelling its book tour because of safety concerns.

In a statement, Bob Miller, Flatiron’s president and publisher, said, “Based on specific threats to booksellers and the author, we believe there exists real peril to their safety.”

“American Dirt,” a novel by Jeanine Cummins about a Mexican woman and her son fleeing to the United States to escape cartel violence, came out last week and seemed poised to become one of the year’s biggest books. But it quickly encountered a backlash, with Latinx writers and community members criticising Cummins’ depiction of the migrant experience and accusing her of appropriating it for profit.

Miller acknowledged some of the criticism in his statement, saying that “we made serious mistakes in the way we rolled out this book.” He added: “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.”

He said “there have been threats of physical violence,” which prompted the cancellation. Instead, the publisher plans to organise town hall meetings featuring Cummins and “some of the groups who have raised objections to the book.” Some of the book’s critics, however, expressed scepticism about the threats. “We have no knowledge or involvement in these safety concerns,” said Roberto Lovato, a writer involved in the media campaign #DignidadLiteraria, which has encouraged debate over “American Dirt” and sought to highlight the works of other Latinx writers.

Cummins “has a right to come out and share her book like any other author,” Lovato said. “We have a right to be critical of what we consider bad literature that doesn’t represent the serious issues that we deal with every day.” Oprah Winfrey, who selected “American Dirt” as her January book club pick, has also attracted criticism for her choice. She later said that she would “bring people together from all sides to talk about this book and who gets to publish what stories” and stream the conversation on her Apple TV Plus show in March.

Members of #DignidadLiteraria said in a statement on Tuesday that they “have no interest in a dialogue with Jeanine Cummins” but would rather focus on systemic issues of inclusion within Oprah’s book club and the publishing industry. On Wednesday, more than 80 writers, many of them award-winning novelists of colour such as Carmen Maria Machado, Viet Thanh Nguyen and Luis Alberto Urrea, signed a letter asking Winfrey to reconsider her selection of “American Dirt.” “The book club provides a seal of approval that can still, we hope, be changed,” read the letter, published on Literary Hub. “The book is widely and strongly believed to be exploitative, oversimplified, and ill-informed, too often erring on the side of trauma fetishisation and sensationalisation of migration and of Mexican life and culture.” – NYT

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