#DignidadLiteraria invites Oprah ‘on a mission to repair’ after ‘American Dirt’ fracas

Oprah Winfrey on CBS This Morning
Oprah Winfrey with author Jeanine Cummins, Anthony Mason and Gayle King on “CBS This Morning,” announcing “American Dirt” as an Oprah’s Book Club pick.
(John Paul Filo / CBS)

The Latinx group #DignidadLiteraria has some more words to share with Oprah Winfrey.

The movement that emerged during the controversy over Jeanine Cummins’ “American Dirt” published an open letter addressed to the television mogul on the website Literary Hub on Wednesday, criticizing her book club’s upcoming “widely-promoted ‘all sides’” discussion of the backlash to Cummins’ book. The letter also invited Winfrey to a private meeting with the group to address “the continued underrepresentation of Latinx authors in publishing and in your highly influential book club.”

“As writers whose mission centers narrative justice for our communities, we seek to repair harm done to our collective dignity — and yours,” said the letter, which was signed by #DignidadLiteraria founders Myriam Gurba, David Bowles, Roberto Lovato and Matt Nelson.

The letter was published a day before a planned taping of an Oprah’s Book Club show in Tucson, where the TV host is expected to have a previously promised “deeper” discussion about the novel.

After Winfrey selected “American Dirt” as her book club pick on Jan. 21, questions about the book’s representation of Mexican migrants quickly picked up steam. She broke her silence on the fracas days later in a video posted on Instagram.


Inside a packed room in Culver City on Thursday, Myriam Gurba, Roxane Gay and other writers of color talked about “American Dirt,” Macmillan and the “crisis” in U.S. publishing.

“Now it has become clear to me, from the outpouring — may I say — of very passionate opinions, that this selection has struck an emotional chord and created a need for a deeper, more substantive discussion,” Winfrey said in the video. “When I first started to hear your comments opposing the selection, I was asking the question in earnest: ‘What is offensive?’ I’ve spent the past few days listening to members of the Latinx community to get a greater understanding of their concerns, and I hear them. I do.”

Last week, officials at Macmillan, the parent company of Flatiron Books, met with #DignidadLiteraria to discuss steps the publisher could take to increase Latinx representation in the predominantly white industry. Winfrey’s representatives participated in the meeting by phone.

According to the letter, the group had asked Winfrey to meet with them several times to “facilitate a discussion between the only two sides that matter in the wake of the American Dirt fiasco: #DignidadLiteraria and other Latinx groups and the publishing industry that has systematically erased us.”

In a phone interview, Lovato said that the group and their supporters want to move on from discussing Cummins and “American Dirt.” Instead, they would like to address the larger issue of the lack of diversity, and particularly Latinx representation, in the publishing ecosystem.

“As our meeting with Macmillan, our public statements and other actions clearly illustrate,” the letter stated, “we and the thousands of Latinx people mobilizing with us have moved beyond Jeanine Cummins and ‘American Dirt’ and have instead brought national attention to the real problem: the 60 million voices silenced by a publishing industry unwilling to let us tell our stories.”

“Whomever you’ve decided to invite to your ‘all-sides’ Apple TV discussion,” the group continued, “we caution you NOT to play into tried and true narratives of white victimhood that paint Latinx people as a violent, barbarian horde of censorship.”

“We urge you to open your mind and heart to actual Latinos the way you have publicly declared you did to Jeanine’s fictional characters.”