it would be unfortunate if the criticism of American Dirt dissuaded many I was referring to attacks in general. How do you feel about that? Some people say that this is about cultural appropriation, that a white American woman shouldn’t have written a novel about the Mexican migration. Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. Your job is to make it nuanced, to not rely on stereotypes and not fall into the lazy pitfall of writing a character that you only define through two or three characteristics and put into a box, instead of saying, “I want to have a complex, interesting, layered human being who happens to be this way and these are the ways it manifests in the story.” And also to not assume that folks identify themselves only through one lens. And I think that’s also often not central to the conversation. A December review by the Chicana writer Myriam Gurba went viral, propelled by other Mexican Americans who appeared to agree with her searing take: “American Dirt” is “a literary licuado that tastes like its title.”, Not only did the book traffic in stereotypes and falsehoods about Mexican culture, many said, but it also packaged those tropes for a non-immigrant audience through the fetishizing lens of “trauma porn.”, “While some white critics have compared Cummins to [John] Steinbeck,” Gurba wrote, “I think a more apt comparison is to Vanilla Ice.”. In an open letter on Wednesday, more than 80 writers called on Winfrey to remove the novel from her book club, an action she has taken just once before. Flatiron has since apologized for how it positioned and publicized the novel, and its parent company, Macmillan, has pledged to substantially increase its numbers of Latinx authors and staff. Great interview. Suarez: Yes, but also any type of writing when it gets into culture and the way that an audience reads it. Suarez: I have a fundamental problem with framing the conversation through the lens of how do people write in the call-out culture—are folks allowed to write about people who are different from them—because that’s just code for, “Can white people write about people who are not like them—who are not from the same race or culture—without getting criticism?” To me, that’s centering the conversation on whiteness. Winfrey said she recognized the need for a “deeper, more substantive discussion" about the novel, and PEN America, a free expression group, condemned the “harsh invective” coming after the author. You should be ambitious in your work and write about what you don’t know as a way to learn, as a way to inhabit other people and to develop empathy. People should read the book for themselves. My perspective—and I think that of most critics and most readers—is that we aren’t saying you can’t write about a person who’s different from you, who’s from a different culture. I’m Cuban, I was born in Cuba. Dariel Suarez is spot-on. There’s no place for that in any conversation. American Dirt is just one of the latest examples of a problematic politics of good intentions that appears across well-meaning institutions and … There isn’t enough literature documenting the challenges to be faced It’s complicated. family and friends; our grandparents were immigrants too. I give the benefit of the doubt to writers that they have good intentions. And, in fact, they are doing it. as well, when it becomes available. A conversation with Cuban-American author Dariel Suarez I read the criticisms after. American Dirt’s problem is bad writing, not cultural appropriation. I was fortunate to have traveled to one of these countries, as a I appreciate his (and Bostonia’s) reintroduction of sensible nuance to the conversation. In the meantime, go read those who aren't getting backed by the hype machine. We, ourselves, are not faceless, nor are we voiceless.”. By signing up you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Suarez: But the bigger point is—there is a community of people telling you there’s something wrong with this book. “We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor.”. She wanted to be judged on the merits of her work. When she set out to write “American Dirt,” Jeanine Cummins wanted to start a conversation about migrants at the border. Personal attacks are not productive, everyone can agree on that. Some accused Cummins, who has mixed Irish and … The group does not want any “American Dirt” events to be cancelled, but would rather focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the publishing industry more broadly, it said in a statement. It’s all complicated and it’s never going to be perfect. She received a seven-figure advance for her book, which has raised questions about how the publishing industry chooses which books, and writers, to aggressively promote, how authors approach writing about marginalized people from other cultures, and how the story of immigration, one of the most politically charged issues in the United States today, gets told. Where am I not doing enough of the cultural work? Bookseller preorders were so strong, the New York Times reported, that Flatiron increased its first printing by 200,000 copies. Oprah Winfrey is breaking her silence on the controversy surrounding Jeanine Cummins’ new novel "American Dirt.". 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