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'American Dirt' Publisher Cancels Author Tour After Threats

Petra Mayer

Flatiron Books, publisher of the controversial new novel American Dirt, has cancelled the remainder of author Jeanine Cummins' book tour after what it called "specific threats to booksellers and the author." This follows several individual event cancellations. [Disclosure: Flatiron Books, publisher of American Dirt, is among NPR's financial supporters]

Cummins received a hefty advance and a big promotional push for American Dirt, which follows a Mexican mother and son fleeing drug cartel violence. Oprah Winfrey picked it for her book club, and prominent authors showered it with praise. But 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 because of it — the book is selling well; it's currently #1 on Amazon's charts.)

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."

But, he added, "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. 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."

Miller also addressed specific concerns around the promotion of American Dirt, saying "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; 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."

Miller said "we wish to listen, learn and do better," but called for "a two-way dialogue characterized by respect," saying that "while there 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. We join with those in the Latinx community and others who have spoken out against such violence."

Flatiron will replace the remainder of the book tour with a series of town halls where Cummins will meet with critics of the book.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Petra Mayer (she/her) is an editor (and the resident nerd) at NPR Books, focusing on fiction, and particularly genre fiction. She brings to the job passion, speed-reading skills, and a truly impressive collection of Doctor Who doodads. You can also hear her on the air and on the occasional episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour.