Macmillan USA has agreed to expand Latinx representation in its staffing and in the books that it publishes according to representatives of #DignidadLiteraria–a movement led by Latino critics of Jeanine Cummins' novel American Dirt–on the heels of a two-hour meeting it took with the publisher at its offices in New York on Monday (3rd February).
The talks follow the backlash against American Dirt, which has been published by Macmillan USA imprint Flatiron Books in the US and Headline in the UK, for its depictions of Mexico and Mexican immigrants by an author not of the culture, which ultimately led to Flatiron cancelling the author's national book tour over threats.
In attendance of the meeting were critics of Cummins' novel including authors David Bowles, Myriam Gurba and Roberto Lovato. Bowles said: "We came to the table with some specific ideas on how to build in greater representation in Macmillan, both in terms of titles and in terms of the actual editorial staff. And we are super happy to announce that they have agreed with us and we have a way to move forward now."
Also present at the meeting were two representatives of Oprah Winfrey, whose choice of American Dirt for her book club caused controversy; Matt Nelson, executive director of Presente.org, the Latinx organising group; and, from Macmillan, president Don Weisberg and Flatiron Books president Bob Miller.
#DignidadLiteraria and Presente.org said in a joint statement following the meeting that they had "won an unprecedented commitment from the leadership of Macmillan USA to transform their publishing practices to include substantial increases in Latinx titles and staff, company-wide". This extends, they said, to "substantially increasing Latinx representation across Macmillan, including authors, titles, staff and its overall literary ecosystem", with next steps being for Macmillan to develop an action plan within 90 days and to regroup with representatives of #DignidadLiteraria and other Latinx groups to "assess progress" in 30 days.
Lovato told PW that one specific proposal suggested during the meeting was the establishment of a "business unit" in Los Angeles, which he said would make "good business sense" when it comes to Latino books and "could constitute a real game changer ... staffed by people who live there and know the market there".
#DignidadLiteraria and Presente.org said jointly they "appreciate Macmillan's stated intentions to work as a leader to address the incredible dearth of presence and opportunity when it comes to Latinx professionals, editors and writers in the US publishing industry", continuing: "But today's announcement is just the first step in what must ultimately be a seachange in publishing. This campaign is not simply about Flatiron Books or Macmillan USA. It's about seeking change that reverberates through the entire industry so the shelves of US bookstores and libraries reflect its people."
The two organisations added: "Today we urge leaders across the publishing industry at large not to wait until their hand is forced to actuate these changes. We urge government leaders to investigate the appalling homogeneity in the publishing industry and we urge writers and readers to demand greater power, presence, and visibility for Latinx voices."
Macmillan, which previously admitted "serious mistakes" had been made in its handling of the publication of American Dirt, promising "we wish to listen, learn and do better", has yet to comment on the meeting that took place and its outcomes.