Publisher cancels 'American Dirt' book tour over security concerns

Flatiron Books, the publisher of the controversial novel, “American Dirt,” cancelled the book tour for the work on Wednesday, citing concerns for the safety of the author, Jeanine Cummins.

The book has faced criticism over its depiction of immigrants and Mexico.

"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. “We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor.

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“Unfortunately, our concerns about safety have led us to the difficult decision to cancel the book tour,” he added. 

The publisher did not detail the nature of the alleged threats to Cummins.

Cummins wrote a novel about the plight of a Mexican immigrant woman, who has a romantic relationship with a drug lord her journalist husband covers. Fleeing violence, she heads toward the U.S. with her young son, Luca.

Critics say that in the book, Cummins, who is not Mexican American, plays to stereotypes and mischaracterizes the lives of immigrants from Latin America. 

The book was first popularized when Oprah WinfreyOprah Gail WinfreyMinnesota health officials say graduation ceremony exposed people to coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump threatens coronavirus funds for states easing voting Oprah Winfrey doles out coronavirus relief grants to home cities MORE announced that it would be the latest book in her book club. It received several celebrity endorsements, including from Salma Hayek, who later rescinded her endorsement. 

Critics have also seized on the book to highlight what they say is a problem in the publishing industry, where non-Latino writers tell stories from a Latino perspective.

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In one interview after her book was released, Cummins said “I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it.”

On Wednesday, 83 writers wrote an open letter to Winfrey asking her to rescind the book from her book club. 

“This letter is not written to attack Cummins, a fellow writer whose intentions we can’t know,” the letter read. “But good intentions do not make good literature, particularly not when the execution is so faulty, and the outcome so harmful.”

The letter went on to describe a scene at a recent book release party, which used barbed wire on its centerpieces. The writers found “the machinery of US immigration used as festive adornment” as insensitive and fear more events such as those would take place if the book remained on Oprah’s Book Club. 

“This is not a letter calling for silencing, nor censoring,” the letter read. “But in a time of widespread misinformation, fearmongering, and white-supremacist propaganda related to immigration and to our border, in a time when adults and children are dying in US immigration cages, we believe that a novel blundering so badly in its depiction of marginalized, oppressed people should not be lifted up.”

In the statement, Miller apologized for the centerpiece and for claiming the novel "defined the migrant experience" and for referencing Cummins's husband as an undocumented immigrant but not clarifying that he is from Ireland. 

Cummins has not publicly responded to criticism of her book, but Miller said Flatiron Books is working on a series of “townhall meetings” where the author will respond to objections. 

“Rather than run away from this conversation, we want to move towards a solution,” Miller said in the statement.

“For that reason, we will be organizing a series of townhall meetings, where Jeanine will be joined by some of the groups who have raised objections to the book. We believe that this provides an opportunity to come together and unearth difficult truths to help us move forward as a community.”