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More than a hundred writers ask Oprah to remove "American Dirt" from her book club

Jeanine Cummins' book promotion couldn't get any worse. But thanks to her, "the filth" of the publishing industry has come out.

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Oprah wanted a "deep and substantial" debate on her show, but for Latino writers and activists it's not enough. After noting that Jeanine Cummins' acclaimed best-seller, "American Dirt" was far from being "the great novel about immigration" and that it was riddled with stereotypes about Latinos, more than a hundred writers have joined in urging the television star to remove Cummins' book from her book club. 

They did so last Wednesday, hours after Flatiron Books announced they were canceling the book tour because of concerns about their author's "safety." Her publishers were trying at all costs to prevent Latino activists from storming into the presentations to question Cummins about her knowledge of Mexican culture and the situation of migrants –a great debate that might have saved its author from being a focal point of criticism and anger towards what is a binary and not at all diverse publishing industry.

In an open letter published in the online platform Literary Hub, these authors claimed:

"This is not a letter calling for silencing, nor censoring." 

"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."

"Good intentions do not make good literature."

"We are asking only that you remove the influential imprimatur of Oprah’s Book Club, as you have in the past upon learning that a book you’d championed wasn’t what it first seemed to be. Your openness to changing your mind, to incorporate additional information, has been inspiring and powerful. We speak to that openness now."

The signatories, including such well-known writers as Tommy Orange, author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist novel "There There", the Mexican writer and MacArthur grant-winner Valeria Luiselli, and the writer and activist Myriam Gurba, the first voice to criticize the stereotypes and mistakes that Cummins makes in her book, also highlighted in their letter the responsibility that writers have when dealing with issues of great social complexity.

"This letter is not written to attack Cummins, a fellow writer whose intentions we can’t know," they added. 

"But good intentions do not make good literature, particularly not when the execution is so faulty, and the outcome so harmful." 

A literary monster

"American Dirt" seems to be a novel written about us, but without us, they say. Since the controversy erupted, Latino writers and activists have made it clear that the publishing industry knows how to take advantage of burning immigration issues, but from a position of white privilege. 

This at the expense of "a community," they reiterate, "of 60 million people who have been left off the shelves (of bookstores) and out of the national dialogue."

With this forceful protest, that went viral through hashtags like #DignidadLiteraria, they have put on the table the problems of an industry that uses diversity as a claim but is anything but diverse. While creating literary monsters that devour any possibility of giving the audience different and more accurate perspectives on an issue that is dividing the American population, especially now in the run-up to the election.

It only remains to be seen what the response of Oprah will be, who already withdrew James Frey's book "A Million Little Pieces" in 2006 when it became clear that some parts of these supposed memoirs had been invented.

To listen to more on the debate, check out this episode from LatinoUSA below. 

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