Author who led backlash against ‘American Dirt’ novel is escorted from Long Beach teaching job

Myriam Gurba speaks at a panel hosted by #DignidadLiteraria.
Myriam Gurba speaks at a panel hosted by #DignidadLiteraria on “American Dirt” and Latinx visibility, held at Antioch University on Thursday, Feb. 6.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Myriam Gurba, the novelist and Long Beach high school teacher who sparked a row in U.S. publishing over the bestselling novel “American Dirt,” has been placed on administrative leave and was escorted from her school Friday.

Gurba broke word of her removal from Long Beach Polytechnic High School via Twitter, a platform she’s used to intensifying effect since disclosing last month that a magazine rejected her scathingly negative review of Jeanine Cummins’ “American Dirt.” Gurba and other readers have derided the thriller-romance story set in Mexico for what they have deemed stereotypical or harmful depictions of Mexican life.

But in recent days, Gurba has turned her attention to brewing allegations of abuse or battery on the part of another Long Beach Poly teacher, Libby Huff. She also has raised unconfirmed allegations against a separate teacher at another school.

Gurba said earlier this week that her school administration had begun ostracizing her for speaking out in support of the students who alleged abuse at the hands of Huff. That teacher is on leave from the district; Long Beach police are also investigating the allegations against her.


On Twitter, Gurba railed this week against the district, her school and Huff.

A counselor at Long Beach Poly walked into Gurba’s classroom Friday to tell her she had to leave school grounds. “They said that my social media was disruptive to the school,” Gurba said in an interview.

The teacher and author of the memoir “Mean” said she was placed on administrative leave without being given any further explanation. A district official confirmed the decision.

“Our school district placed Poly High School teacher Myriam Gurba on paid administrative leave today,” Chris Eftychiou, spokesman for the Long Beach Unified School District, said in an emailed response to questions. “The school district is not at liberty to provide further details because of confidentiality rules affecting personnel matters.”

In a Twitter post, Gurba criticized the school and her district for not “protecting” her and students. “Women and children [are] treated as problems by LBUSD,” Gurba wrote. She also tweeted, “I would rather have my dignity than a job.”

Gurba said she is a teacher of AP psychology. On Friday afternoon she told The Times she was in touch with a lawyer but not clear on what action she would take, if any. She added that she has contacted her union about a response to the district’s actions.

During the controversy over “American Dirt,” under growing pressure from Gurba and other critics, Cummins and her publisher, Macmillan Books, apologized for the novel’s publicity rollout and canceled a planned promotional tour. The debate also led to a simmering and often emotional discussion about cultural appropriation and the mechanics of a books industry that many claim sidelines or erases U.S. Latino voices.

“American Dirt,” meanwhile, has continued to sell well. It currently sits at third place on the Amazon bestseller list.

Times staff writer Dorany Pineda contributed to this report.