American Dirt Publisher’s Response to Backlash Does Little to Address the Book’s Issues

American dirt book cover


Bob Miller, president and publisher of Flatiron Books, has now made a statement concerning American Dirt and the backlash over the book’s misrepresentation of Mexico and the canceling of its book tours. The statement does very little to actually make things better in terms of dealing with the key issues.

While the statement starts off trying to highlight that there has been a negative reaction and that it is indicative of a problem with the way that representation is treated in publishing, it quickly devolves into attempting to mostly highlight the death threats that author Jeanine Cummins allegedly got:

Jeanine Cummins spent five years of her life writing this book with the intent to shine a spotlight on tragedies facing immigrants. For that reason, it’s unfortunate that she is the recipient of hatred from within the very communities she sought to honor. We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor. While there are valid criticisms around our promotion of this book that is no excuses that in some cases there have been threats of physical violence. We join with those in the Latinx community and others who have spoken out against such violence.

Now, I am sure that Cummins has gotten death threats from some sections of the internet, but overwhelmingly, it has been Latinx people and allies attempting to reconcile with the fact that books manage to get so much backing and support with problematic promotion and marketing, while so many Mexican authors, #ownvoices authors, and Latinx authors never get those opportunities. The hype and monetary push behind American Dirt is the only reason it was on my radar, and considering how, right now, publishing and book twitter is so passionate and vigilant in these issues, the fact that elements of the marketing were so false is harmful.

Hosting a book party where there are barbed wire centerpieces as part of the “decor” isn’t just a mistake. That is racist and shows a complete failure from the top down to have actual diversity in terms of who works there. Plus, Cummins herself used her Irish husband’s status as being “undocumented” in a vague way that made it seem as if she had a Latinx husband. Then, she admitted that money was a big part of the issue, as well.

“I think this is an important conversation,” Cummins said at an event. “I feel like it’s a question that needs to be directed more firmly toward publishers than at individual writers. I was never going to turn down money that someone offered me for something that took me seven years to write.”

A lot of people have chosen to take this conversation and spin it into the bad faith argument of “So should we only write about ourselves?!” That’s not it. Cummins wrote a story that several Latinx readers and authors have said does not represent their reality, promotes stereotypes about them, and yet she got paid more than most Latinx authors get when trying to tell their own stories. If her goal was to honor Mexican people, then it is clear that she has failed if people of Mexican and Central American background say, in effect, “This book doesn’t represent myself or anyone I know.”

You can write about whomever you want, but if you are writing about an identity outside of your personal knowledge or experiences, then yes, it matters how you do it, how you researched it, and whether people from that background see truth in it.

According to NPR, “Flatiron will replace the remainder of the book tour with a series of town halls where Cummins will meet with critics of the book.” Apparently, they think that is safer than a book tour, which makes me wonder why they felt the need to further dive into that part of the narrative. But hopefully, this will allow Cummins a chance to actually speak with people and put faces to her criticism.

(via Twitter, image: Flatiron)

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