Ignacio Sánchez Prado, Jarvis Thurston and Mona van Duyn Professor in the Humanities
This week, followers of Mexican and Chicanx literary Twitter have been gripped by the controversy surrounding the release of “American Dirt,” a novel by Jeanine Cummins about a Mexican bookstore owner and her son who, chased by drug lords, join those trying migrate to the United States in violent and tragic conditions. Many of us were first alerted to the existence of this book by Chicana writer Myriam Gurba, the author of the brilliant memoir “Mean.” In an epic December takedown of the book and the editorial world that pushed it, Gurba noted its various problems: whitewashing, appropriation, inaccuracy and saviorism, among other issues.
Gurba and other critics also pointed out the astonishing fact that the book, from an author whose knowledge of Mexico is superficial and derivative at best, was signed to the tune of a bidding war and a seven-figure contract in an industry where Mexican and Mexican American writers are often ignored and marginalized. Regardless, the novel was picked up by Oprah’s book club, enthusiastically endorsed by major writers and celebrities, and marketed aggressively as a “new American classic.”