• Dear Oprah Winfrey: 142 Writers Ask You to Reconsider American Dirt

    Dear Oprah Winfrey,

    As writers from diverse backgrounds, we deeply appreciate your support for books, and your lifting up of voices and authors. You have been and are a powerful force for good, a champion for justice, change, and literature. Thank you.

    In light of all the good that you have done, we believe that American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins should not be honored as your book-club pick. The book club provides a seal of approval that can still, we hope, be changed. As you might know by now, there has been a widespread outcry from many writers—including Mexican American and other Latinx writers and thinkers—about the lack of complexity of this immigration story, and the harm this book can and will do. Others have already written many critiques that very persuasively lay out the problems inherent to this book; there will be many more. One of the earliest critiques is written by Myriam Gurba, and can be read here. Parul Sehgal also outlined her concerns about American Dirt in her recent review in the New York Times.

    Many of us have firsthand experience with migration and its difficulties and traumas; some of us are Mexican immigrants, and have even more direct experience with the migrations Cummins purports to represent in American Dirt. Cummins’s book is, yes, a work of fiction. Many of us are also fiction writers, and we believe in the right to write outside of our own experiences: writing fiction is essentially impossible to do without imagining people who are not ourselves. However, when writing about experiences that are not our own, especially when writing about the experiences of marginalized people, still more especially when these lived experiences are heavily politicized, oppressed, threatened, and disbelieved—when this is the case, the writer’s duty to imagine well, responsibly, and with complexity becomes even more critical.

    In the informed opinions of many, many Mexican American and Latinx immigrant writers, American Dirt has not been imagined well nor responsibly, nor has it been effectively researched. The book is widely and strongly believed to be exploitative, oversimplified, and ill-informed, too often erring on the side of trauma fetishization and sensationalization of migration and of Mexican life and culture. In addition, there are now accusations of heavy use of other Latinx writers’ work.

    We, the undersigned, do not see a faceless brown mass. We, ourselves, are not faceless, nor are we voiceless.

    As Cummins puts it in the author’s note to American Dirt: “At worst, we perceive [migrants] as an invading mob of resource-draining criminals, and, at best, a sort of helpless, impoverished, faceless brown mass, clamoring for help at our doorstep. We seldom think of them as our fellow human beings.” A painful, central question arises: who is this we imagined by Cummins, who is this them? We, the undersigned, do not see a faceless brown mass. We, ourselves, are not faceless, nor are we voiceless.

    This letter is not written to attack Cummins, a fellow writer whose intentions we can’t know. But good intentions do not make good literature, particularly not when the execution is so faulty, and the outcome so harmful. Here is one example of ill-considered execution: already, at a celebratory American Dirt book party hosted by the novel’s publisher, with Cummins at the table, barbed-wire centerpieces were displayed as decorations, the machinery of US immigration used as festive adornment. Cummins publicized these photos herself, with evident delight. These images are difficult to look at, and for those of us who have undergone migration they are callous and insensitive. We can only imagine how many more such parties will take place if this novel continues its life as an Oprah book-club pick.

    This is not a letter calling for silencing, nor censoring. But in a time of widespread misinformation, fearmongering, and white-supremacist propaganda related to immigration and to our border, in a time when adults and children are dying in US immigration cages, we believe that a novel blundering so badly in its depiction of marginalized, oppressed people should not be lifted up.

    We are asking only that you remove the influential imprimatur of Oprah’s Book Club, as you have in the past upon learning that a book you’d championed wasn’t what it first seemed to be. Your openness to changing your mind, to incorporating additional information, has been inspiring and powerful. We speak to that openness now.

    The undersigned alphabetical list includes many prominent, bestselling, prizewinning writers. All of us know you to be a public figure who believes in change and empathy. We write with dismay, but also with long-standing admiration, and with hope.

    Thank you for listening.


    Chantel Acevedo, author of The Distant Marvels
    Xhenet Aliu, author of Brass
    Eloisa Amezcua, author of From the Inside Quietly
    Alice Bag, author of Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, a Chicana Punk Story
    Jennifer Baker, editor of the short story anthology Everyday People: The Color of Life
    Rosebud Ben-Oni, author of turn around, BRXGHT XYXS
    Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, author of Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge
    Chaya Bhuvaneswar, author of White Dancing Elephants
    Sara Borjas, author of Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff
    Jamel Brinkley, author of A Lucky Man
    F. Douglas Brown, author of ICON
    David Campos, author of Furious Dusk
    Sara Campos, writer, lawyer, co-director of The New American Story Project
    Jennine Capó Crucet, author of Make Your Home Among Strangers
    Joseph Cassara, author of The House of Impossible Beauties
    Steph Cha, author of Your House Will Pay
    Cathy Linh Che, author of Split
    Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
    Kirstin Chen, author of Bury What We Cannot Take
    Chiwan Choi, author of The Yellow House
    Nicole Chung, author of All You Can Ever Know
    Eduardo C. Corral, author of Guillotine
    Naima Coster, author of Halsey Street
    Rachelle Cruz, author of God’s Will for Monsters
    Carolina De Robertis, author of Cantoras
    Anjanette Delgado, author of The Clairvoyant of Calle Ocho
    Juli Delgado Lopera, author of Fiebre Tropical
    Jaquira Díaz, author of Ordinary Girls
    Omar El Akkad, author of American War
    Tongo Eisen-Martin, author of Heaven Is All Goodbyes
    Patricia Engel, author of The Veins of the Ocean
    Alex Espinoza, author of Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime
    Kali Fajardo-Anstine, author of Sabrina & Corina
    Chris Feliciano Arnold, author of The Third Bank of the River
    Carolyn Forché, author of What You Have Heard is True
    Katie Ford, author of If You Have to Go
    Caribbean Fragoza, author of Eat the Mouth That Feeds You (forthcoming)
    Ru Freeman, author of On Sal Mal Lane
    Denice Frohman, co-organizer #PoetsforPuertoRico
    M. Evelina Galang, author of Her Wild American Self
    V.V. Ganeshananthan, author of Love Marriage
    Ángel García, author of Teeth Never Sleep
    Suzi F. Garcia, author of Dear Dorothy: A Home Grown Fairytale, executive editor at Noemi Press
    Amina Gautier, author of The Loss of All Lost Things
    Dagoberto Gilb, author of Before the End, After the Beginning
    Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name
    Michelle Cruz Gonzales, author of The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band
    Estella Gonzalez, author of upcoming 80s East Los
    Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman
    Jean Guerrero, author of Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir
    Jasmine Guillory, author of The Wedding Date
    Myriam Gurba, author of Mean
    Juan Luis Guzman, organizing committee member of CantoMundo
    Daisy Hernandez, author of A Cup of Water Under My Bed
    Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, author of Children of the Land
    Brandon Hobson, author of Where the Dead Sit Talking
    Mitchell Jackson, author of Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family
    Michael Jaime-Becerra, author of Every Night Is Ladies’ Night
    Luis Jaramillo, author of The Doctor’s Wife
    Randa Jarrar, author of Him, Me, Muhammad Ali
    Stephanie Jimenez, author of They Could Have Named Her Anything
    Lacy M. Johnson, author of The Reckonings
    Zeyn Joukhadar, author of The Map of Salt and Stars
    Laleh Khadivi, author of A Good Country
    Porochista Khakpour, author of Brown Album
    Christian Kiefer, author of Phantoms
    Lydia Kiesling, author of The Golden State
    Angie Kim, author of Miracle Creek
    Crystal Hana Kim, author of If You Leave Me
    Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine
    R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
    Mary Ladd, author of The Wig Diaries
    Stephanie Land, author of Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive
    Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: An American Memoir
    Alberto Ledesma, author of Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer
    Christine Lee, author of Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember
    Aya de León, author of Side Chick Nation
    Muriel Leung, author of Bone Confetti
    Ada Limón, author of The Carrying
    Kenji C. Liu, author of Monsters I Have Been
    Roberto Lovato, author of Unforgetting: A Memoir of Revolution and Redemption
    Valeria Luiselli, author of the novel Lost Children Archive
    Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties
    MariNaomi, author and illustrator of Turning Japanese
    Terese Mailhot, author of Heart Berries: A Memoir
    Lauren Markham, author of The Far Away Brothers
    Caille Millner, author of The Golden Road: Notes on my Gentrification
    Fatima Farheen Mirza, author of A Place for Us 
    Tomás Q. Morín, author of Patient Zero
    Nayomi Munaweera, author of What Lies Between Us
    John Murillo, author of Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry
    Jennifer Nelson, author of Aim at the Centaur Stealing Your Wife
    Beth (Bich Minh) Nguyen, author of Stealing Buddha’s Dinner
    Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the novel The Sympathizer
    Dina Nayeri, author of The Ungrateful Refugee
    Idra Novey, author of Those Who Knew
    Achy Obejas, author of The Tower of the Antilles
    Daniel José Older, author of Shadowshaper
    Daniel A. Olivas, author of The King of Lighting Fixtures
    Tochi Onyebuchi, author of War Girls and Riot Baby
    Tommy Orange, author of There There
    Wendy C. Ortiz, author of Excavation: A Memoir
    Daniel Peña, author of BANG: A Novel
    Frances de Pontes Peebles, author of The Air You Breathe
    Isabel Quintero, author of My Papi Has a Motorcycle
    Luivette Resto, author of Ascension
    Joseph Rios, author of Shadowboxing: Poems & Impersonations
    Gabby Rivera, author of Juliet Takes a Breath
    Lilliam Rivera, author of Dealing In Dreams
    Melissa Rivero, author of The Affairs of the Falcóns
    Suzanne Roberts, author of Almost Somewhere
    Ivelisse Rodriguez, author of Love War Stories
    Ingrid Rojas Contreras, author of Fruit of the Drunken Tree
    Elizabeth Rosner, author of Survivor Café
    Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, author of Barefoot Dogs
    Raquel Salas Rivera, author of lo terciario / the tertiary
    Aida Salazar, formerly undocumented child, author of The Moon Within
    Steven Sanchez, author of Phantom Tongue
    Carina del Valle Schorske, author of The Other Island
    Alex Segura, author of Miami Midnight
    Shanthi Sekaran, author of Lucky Boy
    Namwali Serpell, author of The Old Drift
    Rebecca Solnit, author of Whose Story is This?
    Analicia Sotelo, author of Virgin
    Susan Straight, author of the In the Country of Women
    Pitchaya Sudbanthad, author of Bangkok Wakes to the Rain
    Natalia Sylvester, author of Everyone Knows You Go Home
    Tanaïs (née Tanwi Nandini Islam), author of Bright Lines
    Nafissa Thompson-Spires, author of Heads of the Colored People
    David L. Ulin, author of Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles
    Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels
    Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel
    Azareen van der Vliet Oloomi, author of Call Me Zebra
    Jose Antonio Vargas, author of Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen
    Vickie Vértiz, author of Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut
    Oscar Villalon, Managing Editor of Zyzzyva 
    Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, daughter of formerly undocumented Mexican immigrants, author of Beast Meridian
    Esmé Weijun Wang, author of The Collected Schizophrenias
    Naomi Williams, author of Landfalls
    Desiree Zamorano, author of Amado Women
    Javier Zamora, emigrated from El Salvador when he was nine, author of Unaccompanied
    Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks

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