US publisher Flatiron has cancelled American Dirt author Jeanine Cummins’ promotional tour in the US after "threats to booksellers and the author".
The novel, published in the UK by Tinder Press, has faced a growing backlash over the author’s portrayal of Mexican immigrants. Despite high-profile support from many, others have accused the book of exploiting the plight of Mexican immigrants. The anger intensified when pictures emerged of a celebratory dinner held by Flatiron which included tables with barbed wire-bound centrepieces.
A group of writers including Mexican American and other Latinx authors this week wrote an open letter to Oprah Winfrey complaining about its choice as one of her book club picks. Several individual bookshop appearances by the author, who got a reported seven-figure advance from Flatiron for the book, were also cancelled in the US over recent days.
In a statement, Flatiron president and publisher Bob Miller admitted "serious mistakes" in the way the book was handled and said the firm was cancelling the rest of the American Dirt tour. He explained: "Unfortunately, our concerns about safety have led us to the difficult decision to cancel the book tour. Based on specific threats to booksellers and the author, we believe there exists real peril to their safety."
Miller said a series of "townhall" meetings would be held instead where Cummins would be joined by some of the groups who have objected to the book.
He went on: "Simply put, we wish to listen, learn and do better. But that also must include a two-way dialogue characterized by respect. Jeanine Cummins spent five years of her life writing this book with the intent to shine a spotlight on tragedies facing immigrants. For that reason, it’s unfortunate that she is the recipient of hatred from the very communities she sought to honor. We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor. While there are valid criticisms around our promotion of this book that is no excuse for the fact that in some cases there have been threats of physical violence. We join with those in the Latinx community and others who have spoken out against such violence."
Miller also addressed mistakes made when publishing the book. He said: "We should never have claimed that it was a novel that defined the migrant experience; we should not have said that Jeanine’s husband was an undocumented immigrant while not specifying that he was from Ireland; we should not have had a centerpiece at our bookseller dinner last May that replicated the book jacket so tastelessly. We can now see how insensitive those and other decisions were, and we regret them."
The row has ignited a debate over the rights authors have to write about characters outside of their own cultural experience, with several UK publishing figures telling The Bookseller today that they are uneasy about the ramifications. Since the furore broke, Headline has insisted it is “proud” to be publishing the book, which entered the Original Fiction chart this week at number two.
Mary-Anne Harrington, publisher at Tinder Press, told The Bookseller last week: "We are extremely proud to be publishing American Dirt. We have had overwhelming support from the book trade and early readers alike."
Headline told The Bookseller it has no immediate plans to tour Cummins in the UK, although a high-profile publicity campaign launch had said she was pencilled in for "a select number of events" this autumn.