The backlash from Latinx readers over Jeanine Cummins’ new novel “American Dirt” on Wednesday led the publisher, Flatiron Books, to cancel the remainder of the author’s promotional tour, citing “specific threats to booksellers and the author.”
The book, about a Mexican woman and her son fleeing to the U.S. to escape cartel violence, was released on Jan. 21 to great fanfare, including a selection to Oprah’s Book Club and a debut at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. But Latinx writers and readers soon mounted an online campaign against the book and its author, who is of Irish and Puerto Rican descent, for appropriating the Mexican experience in a way they called racist and stereotypical.
“Jeanine Cummins spent five years of her life writing this book with the intent to shine a spotlight on tragedies facing immigrants,” Bob Miller, president and publisher of Flatiron Books, said in a statement posted to Twitter Wednesday. “We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor.”
“When we began the journey of supporting this book it quickly spawned as much excitement and anticipation as any book I can remember in my forty years working in the publishing business,” he said. “During the lead-up to publication, we heard praise from major authors; Barnes & Noble designated it their book club pick; independent bookstores made it their #1 choice for February; and Oprah Winfrey made it a book club selection. It is a book we continue being proud to have published.”
He said Flatiron has been “surprised by the anger,” which is “indicative of a problem” within the company and industry. He addressed a number of actions from Flatiron he regretted. Among them, Miller apologized for identifying Cummins’ husband as an undocumented immigrant without specifying he was from Ireland.
He said the publishing house plans to organize a series of town-hall meetings where Cummins will talk with groups who have raised objections to the book.