Flatiron Books, the publisher of "American Dirt" by Jeanine Cummins, has apologized for an insensitive portrayal of the work Credit: Photo courtesy of Flatiron Books

The publisher of a recently released controversial novel about a Mexican migrant’s journey to the United States apologized Wednesday for insensitively presenting the work.

“American Dirt,” by Gaithersburg native Jeanine Cummins, was released last week. Former talk show host Oprah Winfrey picked it as one of her book club selections. Gaithersburg has chosen the book for the whole city to read and discuss together.

Almost instantly, critics condemned the work for inaccurately portraying the migrant experience.

Some have also criticized Cummins, who identifies as white and has Puerto Rican roots, for writing a story about immigration, pointing to a lack of diversity in the publishing industry.
Cummins even wrote in the book that she “wished someone browner” than her had written it.

The book’s publisher, New York-based Flatiron Books, on Wednesday released a statement from Bob Miller, its publisher, stating that it was “surprised by the anger that has emerged from members of the Latinx and publishing communities.”

“The fact that we were surprised is indicative of a problem, 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 said.

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Miller said the publisher was wrong to claim the book “defined the migrant experience” and shouldn’t have mentioned that Cummins’ husband was an undocumented immigrant without specifying that he was from Ireland.

Miller wrote that the company held a bookseller dinner in May 2019 that replicated the book jacket “tastelessly,” but he didn’t give further details.

“We can now see how insensitive those and other decisions were, and we regret them,” he wrote.

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Flatiron, in recent days, has canceled multiple speaking events Cummins has planned as part of her book tour around the country due to safety concerns. One cancellation happened on Tuesday in Houston. Miller wrote that the cancellations are “based on specific threats to booksellers and the author” and they believe there is “real peril to their safety.”

Miller said Cummins will, however, later meet with groups who have criticized “American Dirt” as part of a series of town hall meetings.

“We believe that this provides an opportunity to come together and unearth difficult truths to help move us forward as a community,” he wrote.

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Attempts to reach Cummins for comment through the publisher this month were unsuccessful. Flatiron spokeswoman Marlena Bittner wrote in an email that Cummins would be doing interviews “in the near future,” but was “taking a few days to herself.”

Gaithersburg High School is set to host Cummins for a community discussion on March 31 as part of a citywide reading campaign. Everyone in the city was encouraged to read the book before the event. Plans have been in place for the event since last year.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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