- Published: 06 February 2020 06 February 2020
When American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins went from one of the most anticipated novels of the year to one of the most controversial, it proved a challenge for bookstores that had high expectations for the book.
A novel about a Mexican mother and her child fleeing to the United States to escape the violence that killed the rest of their family, the book was billed as "A Grapes of Wrath for our times" and a definitive book about the contemporary immigrant experience.
Once the book was published, however, it generated a rising swell of controversy and pushback, especially from the Latinx community. American Dirt was criticized for perpetuating stereotypes, and cultural appropriation. The waves have been felt at all levels of the book industry, from independent bookstore to Oprah.
Southern booksellers, by and large, have responded to the controversy as an opportunity for discussion and raising awareness. "I have been discussing with customers the controversy of the book, and how the publishing industry has overlooked authors #OwnVoices," said Deanna Bailey of Story on the Square in McDonough, GA. "Criticism are valid, and I'm happy to listen to them," said Angel Schroeder of Sunrise Books in High Point, NC. "Any book that generates discussion and debate is welcome in the bookstore," said Laura Taylor of Oxford Exchange in Tampa, FL.
Because booksellers are a group that believes reading more about an issue can only help, many of them expanded their store displays to include other books about immigration, discrimination, and Latinx and Mexican culture, like Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, NC:
Charis Books & More, the feminist bookstore in Atlanta, anticipated the controversy and posted one of the more considered statements to their social media followers after Oprah selected American Dirt for her book club, along with, naturally, a suggested reading list:
Today Oprah Winfrey chose American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins as her newest bookclub pick. Jeanine Cummins identifies as a white woman with a Puerto Rican grandmother. American Dirt, a novel about immigration and the crisis at the Mexico and U.S. border has received an enormous amount of publishing industry praise and buy-in. And a significant amount of concern, sadness, and anger from Mexican-American and Latinx authors who feel harmed by the book's broad portrayal of Mexican culture. We believe it is important to acknowledge the opportunity costs to Mexican-American writers whose works do not receive the fiscal or political support that American Dirt is receiving. #OwnVoices is a social media movement designed to focus support on authors who are writing books from within their own cultures, not because it is wrong to imagine a world outside your own experience but because when white writers are elevated for telling the stories of people of color it is writers of color who often fail to receive financial and political support to publish their own stories.
Today we invite you to explore these #OwnVoices authors whose books are currently on our shelves (along with many others). Thank you to Myriam Gurba for her leadership in this discussion. #FeministBookstore
Suggested Reading from Charis Books
1. Citizen Illegal by José Olivarez
2. Mean by Myriam Gurba
3. Una casa propia Historias de mi vida by Sandra Cisneros
4. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
5. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
6. Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester
7. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa
8. The Affairs of the Falcóns: A Novel by Melissa Rivero
9. Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir by Cherríe Moraga
10. Dominicana by Angie Cruz
Read independently, and shop local.