What The Controversy Over 'American Dirt' Tells Us About Publishing And Authorship : 1A Lorraine Devon Wilke, a white writer, says, "I was repetitively told by gatekeepers, agents and publishers, that they were afraid to publish my book because it had a black character and they didn't want to be accused of cultural appropriation."

Want to support 1A? Give to your local public radio station and subscribe to this podcast. Have questions? Find us on Twitter @1A.

1A

What The Controversy Over 'American Dirt' Tells Us About Publishing And Authorship

What The Controversy Over 'American Dirt' Tells Us About Publishing And Authorship

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/800092442/800098330" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

An aerial view of the U.S.-Mexico border, with Mexico on the right. Mario Tama/Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Mario Tama/Mario Tama/Getty Images

An aerial view of the U.S.-Mexico border, with Mexico on the right.

Mario Tama/Mario Tama/Getty Images

The novel "American Dirt" hit bookstores in a way most authors can only dream of: a seven-figure bidding war for the publishing rights, a movie option prior to publication, and a selection for Oprah's book club.

But then, all that praise was punctured. "American Dirt" follows the fictional account of a Mexican mother and her young son as they flee violence and migrate north to America. And some Latinx writers and readers objected to the way author Jeanine Cummins treated the migrant experience.

They said she fetishized their struggle, and even fetishized peoples' skin color.

And that criticism stokes the debate on who the publishing world includes, and who it consistently leaves out. Who gets to tell the story?

Can online reaction to literature act as a form of censorship? Or is it a valuable check, especially on a publishing industry that can't seem to get questions of representation and diversity right in its quest to sell books?

We talk about it with David Bowles, Mexican American translator, poet and author; Constance Grady, culture writer and book critic at Vox; Lorraine Devon Wilke, author of "The Alchemy of Noise"; and K. Tempest Bradford, writer and instructor of the "Writing The Other" writing workshop.

Like what you hear? Find more of our programs online.