After Threats, 'American Dirt' Publisher Cancels Author's Tour
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A publisher has canceled the book tour for Jeanine Cummins. She's the author of "American Dirt." This novel about migrants from Mexico drew loud praise and intense criticism, and now the publishers say they fear for the author's safety. The novel drew such interest because it explores one of the major news stories of our time. It drew criticism, at least in part, because it is a story about characters who are Mexican migrants written by an author who is not. Cummins spoke with Rachel on this program.
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JEANINE CUMMINS: Not everyone has to love my book. You know, I endeavored to be incredibly culturally sensitive. I did the work. I did five years of research. The whole intention in my heart when I wrote this book was to try to upend the traditional stereotypes that I saw being very prevalent in our national dialogue.
INSKEEP: Numerous writers and journalists slammed the book for perpetuating stereotypes. The critics include Los Angeles Times writer Esmeralda Bermudez, who also spoke with Rachel last week.
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ESMERALDA BERMUDEZ: This book has left a lot of white readers with a very fuzzy feeling, like, oh, my God, about immigrants. And my skin is crawling. My skin is crawling.
INSKEEP: And now here we are with a book tour canceled for a best-selling book.
The writer Reyna Grande joins us next. She has written about the immigrant and Mexican experiences and has lived them. Her memoir, "The Distance Between Us," details her experience crossing into the U.S. as an undocumented child. She is one of the authors who praised "American Dirt" and is now on the line from Sacramento, Calif. Good morning.
REYNA GRANDE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Thanks for joining us at this early hour. Flatiron Publishing (ph), the president puts out a statement saying, quote, "based on specific threats to booksellers and the author" - specific threats - "we believe there exists real peril to their safety." What do you make of that?
GRANDE: Yes. I thought it was surprising to me that they decided to cancel the tour because one of the things I want to see is more conversations about what - the themes that this book has sparked, which is basically, for me, is we need to talk more about the publishing business, about the lack of diversity and the barriers that the publishing industry has put up for Latinos and other writers of color. I was hoping that this would encourage publishers to acknowledge how their practices have fueled the frustration and anger that the Latino community is feeling right now.
INSKEEP: You are making, I think, a quite complicated point that we should try to clarify. You are saying there is a real problem with representation. There's a real problem with diversity in the publishing industry. And you - it sounds like you believe that, even though you also believe that this book by a white author was very good. Is that right?
GRANDE: Yes, I blurbed the book because I thought that the story was compelling. One of the themes that the book addresses, the difficult choices that immigrant parents have to make, is something that I could relate to because my father was put in a similar situation when he brought me across the border when I was 9 years old. So I could relate to the story of a mother who is forced to make difficult choices for her child. Also...
INSKEEP: Is - oh, go ahead, please.
GRANDE: ...I'm an advocate for immigrant rights. So when I read the book, I really hoped that it would help to generate more discussions about the border crisis and the plight of migrants and asylum-seekers. And I saw it as a book that could complement the immigrant literature written by Latino authors.
INSKEEP: Is there something strange about this incident in that Cummins writes this book, people get all excited about it, people like you agree to praise it - and then the criticism starts, and it appears people seem to have even changed their opinion after the criticism starts?
GRANDE: Yeah. I think I felt a similar way in that when the criticism started to be heard, I understood where they were coming from. And I do think that the community, the Latino community, is making some valid points. After I blurbed the book, I found out about the bidding war and the seven-figure advance. And I felt hurt. I felt undervalued. And I was angry as well.
INSKEEP: Oh - because you had lived this experience and nobody had a bidding war, a seven-figure advance for you, is that what you're saying?
GRANDE: No, I think it's because this is something that is common in the industry - is that Latino authors, when we're writing, you know, these immigrant stories, we are told time and time again that our stories don't matter, that these immigrant stories don't sell. Now, along comes this book about the Mexican immigrant experience written by someone outside our community, and publishers fight each other for the privilege to publish it.
INSKEEP: Is this a situation where even though you like the book, Cummins is almost - I don't know - in the position of Elvis, once upon a time - singing black-inspired music, but he's the white guy who can sell it to a white audience?
GRANDE: Yes. But I think that's one of the reasons why I blurbed the book, as well, because I - you know, I travel the country speaking about my immigrant experiences. And I manage to connect with people. And hopefully, I open minds and hearts. But I also have experienced a lot of discrimination, and I have met many people who refuse to listen to what I have to say. And I was really hoping that perhaps someone from their own community who is talking about these issues would have a better chance at connecting with those who would otherwise refuse to (inaudible) to some (inaudible) like me.
INSKEEP: You saw Jeanine Cummins as a kind of translator.
Reyna Grande, thank you very much.
GRANDE: Thank you.
INSKEEP: She's talking to us on this morning after we've learned that the publisher has canceled the book tour for the author of "American Dirt" because of concerns about the safety of the author of that best-selling novel.
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