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Opinion

Letters to the Editor: Where are the big advances for authors of color who write about the white experience?

American Dirt
Oprah Winfrey, next to author Jeanine Cummins, announced “American Dirt” as her book club selection on the show “CBS This Morning.”
(John Paul Filo / CBS)

To the editor: Robin Abcarian’s defense of white “American Dirt” novelist Jeanine Cummins’ right to represent the lives of Mexican immigrants is laughably ironic. Abcarian conveniently ignores the long tradition of white folks’ literary appropriation of and profiteering from the lived experiences of people of color (schlock like William Styron’s “The Confessions of Nat Turner” and Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help,” for example).

“American Dirt” has elicited backlash not merely for its author’s paternalistic arrogance, but also for being symptomatic of a racist, sexist hierarchy in which women of color novelists must navigate a literary establishment dominated by gate-keeping white publishers, editors and agents who control the industry’s terms of representation.

I defy Abcarian and other apologists for white appropriation to name an instance where a black or Latinx woman writer has commanded seven figures, a film deal, gushing hype and Oprah Winfrey’s imprimatur for a novel on the white Anglo, Jewish, Irish or Italian American experience.

Sikivu Hutchinson, Los Angeles

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To the editor: “American Dirt” is a work of art, a fictional story and a very good read. The publishing industry has all the problems described by the book’s critics, but it is a business that needs sales to sustain itself and survive.

The industry placed a high value on “American Dirt,” and the author should be able to enjoy her success and not be vilified because she did not conform to someone else’s view of the world.

Karen Heller Mason, Los Angeles

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To the editor: In the matter of “American Dirt,” grounds for controversy are lacking.

The book is a novel, the same classification that accommodates George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” Case closed.

Jim Johnson, Whittier


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