Jeanine Cummins' book tour for 'American Dirt' has been cancelled over safety concerns

'We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor,' the book's publisher said in a statement

Jeanine Cummins' new book has been mired in controversy. Instagram 
Powered by automated translation

The publisher of a controversial new book about a Mexican woman immigrating to the United States has cancelled an upcoming book tour over concerns for the author's safety.

The controversy surrounding Jeanine Cummins' new novel, American Dirt, reached fever pitch this week as members of the Latinx community called the book out for appropriating their culture.

American Dirt follows the story of a Mexican woman fleeing with her young son to the United States after a drug cartel massacre.

Cummins is not Mexican, or a migrant, and criticisms were raised over whether the American author should have told the story at all, and further debate raged over its marketing tactics. It has also faced criticism due to its reliance on migrant stereotypes.

The uproar has led to American Dirt publisher Flatiron Books cancelling Cummins' book tour due to safety concerns.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

"Based on specific threats to booksellers and the author, we believe there exists real peril to their safety," Bob Miller, Flatiron's president and publisher, said in an announcement.

"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 apologise for specific aspects of the novel's marketing campaign, including claiming that "it was a novel that defined the migrant experience", and saying that Cummins's husband was an undocumented migrant, while not specifying that he was from Ireland. He also apologised for using barbed wire as a centrepiece at a bookseller dinner in May 2019 "that replicated the book jacket so tastelessly".

"We can now see how insensitive those and other decisions were, and we regret them," Miller said.

The book, which was only released on Tuesday, January 21, was widely praised by Oprah Winfrey, and the television mogul selected it as her book club pick last week.

Since then, about 100 well-known authors have written an open letter to Winfrey, and posted it on literary website Literary Hub, calling for her to remove it as her book club pick.

However, the book has also been praised by a number of prominent authors.

Miller has been quick to jump to Cummins' defense, saying it was a fault of the publisher rather than the author.

In his statement, Miller admitted he had been "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," he wrote.

"We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancour."

Winfrey has since posted a video to Instagram to address the furore, with an accompanying statement that said: "We've read and continue to read your comments. It's clear that we need to have a different kind of conversation about American Dirt and we welcome everyone's thoughts and opinions in our community."