Flatiron Books, the publisher of the contentious migrant novel “American Dirt,” has canceled its book tour with Jeanine Cummins and acknowledged “deep inadequacies” in its rollout of the bestselling book.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Bob Miller, president and publisher of Flatiron Books, wrote: "[O]ur concerns about safety have led us to the difficult decision to cancel the book tour. Based on specific threats to booksellers and the author, we believe there exists real peril to their safety.” Among the canceled appearances was Cummins’ participation in a Los Angeles Times Book Club event on March 11.
In response to the massive backlash generated by Cummins and her novel, the publishing imprint said it will be “organizing a series of town hall 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.”
The book tour cancellation comes amid a raging storm of controversy surrounding Cummins’ novel. Published on Jan. 21, “American Dirt” has been accused by critics of being a harmful act of cultural appropriation, riddled with cultural inaccuracies and stereotypes about Mexico and the struggles of migrants. It also has spurred discussions about how far the publishing industry still has to go to represent the diversity of the Latino experience.
In the statement, Miller admitted the publishing company “failed to acknowledge” its own limits. “The fact that we were surprised” by the backlash “is indicative of a problem,” he added, “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 went on to acknowledge “serious mistakes” in the marketing process: “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.”
The publisher also lamented the “vitriolic rancor” directed at Cummins “from the very communities she sought to honor,” and said any discussions “must include a two-way dialogue characterized by respect.” Miller also maintained that “it is a book we continue being proud to have published.”
Just last week, Flatiron stood behind the book while acknowledging the backlash it had sparked. In a statement to The Times on Thursday, the imprint defended the title, saying that it sought to generate “empathy” for migrants.
Though widely criticized by a chorus of Latinx writers and authors across the country, the book also had its high-profile supporters. Oprah Winfrey chose “American Dirt” for her book club, later saying “deeper” discussions would be had after addressing the backlash.
Author Sandra Cisneros reaffirmed her backing of the book in an exclusive interview with reporter Maria Hinojosa on the NPR podcast “Latino USA,” which aired Wednesday. She asserted that it could potentially educate an audience that hasn’t previously been exposed to migrant stories.
Novelist Ann Patchett also told The Times last week that she stood by her opinion: “I read the book and I loved it. That experience can’t be changed by people who don’t like it.”
Most other initial supporters of the book, including John Grisham and Stephen King, have not publicly responded to the brewing backlash.
Celebrities like Gina Rodriguez and Salma Hayek took to social media last week to praise the book. But within days, they backtracked.
Individual bookstore discussions and signings had already been canceled across the country over the past week, including in Southern California.
“American Dirt” tells the story of Lydia and her 8-year-old son, Luca, who are fleeing from their home in Acapulco after a drug cartel kills more than a dozen of their family members during a quinceañera. They flee north on a treacherous journey, disguising themselves as migrants in an effort to cross the border.