The publisher of the controversial “American Dirt” book has canceled the remainder of author Jeanine Cummins’ promotional tour, citing concerns for her safety.
The novel about a Mexican mother and her young son fleeing to the U.S. border had been praised widely before its Jan. 21 release and was chosen by Oprah Winfrey for her book club. But Mexican-American writers, activists and others have criticized “American Dirt” for what they argue are stereotypical depictions of Mexicans.
Cummins is of Irish and Puerto Rican background.
“Jeanine Cummins spent five years of her life writing this book with the intent to shine a spotlight on tragedies facing immigrants,” Bob Miller, president and publisher of Flatiron Books, said in a statement Wednesday. “We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor.
“Unfortunately, our concerns about safety have led us to the difficult decision to cancel the book tour.”
Flatiron tweeted about its pride in the book, calling it “a novel of enormous power that has already affected the way many readers see the world.” The publisher’s statement went on to say, “We are carefully listening to the conversation happening around the novel.”
In USA TODAY’s own review, Barbara VanDenburgh wrote the novel “reeks of opportunism, substituting character arcs for mere trauma.”
She went on to say that Cummins’ author’s note attempting to explain why she wrote the book made the situation worse.
“I was worried that, as a nonimmigrant and non-Mexican, I had no business writing a book set almost entirely in Mexico, set entirely among immigrants,” Cummins wrote in the author’s note. “I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it.”
“Lots of someones ‘slightly browner’ than Cummins did write it,” VanDenburgh wrote in response, noting several recent examples.
In a video posted to Winfrey’s book club Instagram page Monday, Winfrey addressed the backlash after her book club pick was questioned.
“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,” she captioned the video.
In the video, Winfrey explains she read an advance copy of the book last summer.
“I was deeply moved, it had me riveted from the very first sentence and I could hardly wait, really, to share it with all of you,” she said. “Now, it has become clear to me from the outpouring of, may I say, of very passionate opinions that this selection has struck an emotional chord and created a need for a deeper, more substantive discussion.”
Despite the criticism, Cummins’ novel had been selling well and was No. 8 on the Amazon.com best-seller list at the time Flatiron announced the tour was being cut short. The book debuted at No. 2 on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books List.
Cummins does have at least one major interview coming up. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Winfrey confirmed that Winfrey will meet with the author next month and that the discussion will air in March on Apple TV Plus.
Contributing: Erin Jensen and Sara M Moniuszko, USA TODAY; The Associated Press