There’s a new literary scandal brewing in the USA, which is a relief, because we all know it’s be very quiet and friendly around here lately. But seriously, this one doesn’t even seem to involve a man who abuses power to gaslight, assault, and defame women. Though it does once again seem to be centred around white people casually and/or cluelessly taking advantage of the oppression machine we’ve created over the last several thousand years. #babysteps? #progress? #makescandalsgreatagain?
As you may have noticed if you’re a person who follows Literary Twitter in any fashion, online controversy over Jeanine Cummins’ new novel American Dirt exploded over the weekend. If you aren’t, or if you were engaging in a digital detox this weekend, here’s what you need to know:
In 2018, Jeanine Cummins, who is white (but who recently revealed that she has a Puerto Rican grandparent), sold her novel American Dirt, described in Publishers Marketplace as “the story of a mother and her young son as they try to cross the border into the United States, fleeing their Mexican city, which has been taken over by a drug cartel,” for seven figures, after an auction between multiple publishing houses. Rights were promptly sold to a host of other countries, as is common in such cases.
As is also common for novels purchased for large sums of money, the publicity machine soon began churning, and by the time we made it to the beginning of this year, American Dirt had gotten a lot of early praise, and was on tons of Most Anticipated lists (including ours).
And it goes downhill from there.