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Let’s Talk About Jeanine Cummins

Clarissa Poston

Posted on April 10, 2021 15:43

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Cummins, within the last couple of years, has been the face of controversy in the world of literature.

Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt was highly anticipated. When first written, Cummins’ book created tension between publishing companies – everyone wanted to be responsible for the publication, as the success of this book was thought to be major.

In the end, Flatiron Books won the publication and provided Cummins with an immense advance. American Dirt, released in January of 2020, became a book in Oprah’s book club, giving the publication even more hype. With all of this help and support from publishers, celebrities, etc., American Dirt was supposed to be monumental. 

However, after the book was released, Cummins became the face of controversy. American Dirt, in short, is the story of a mother and son fleeing to the United States in hopes of escaping cartel-related danger and violence. Within this story, many readers took issue with the way Cummins chose to portray Mexico and its inhabitants: “The author’s portrayal of Mexican culture was called outlandish, littered with stereotypes, stilted bilingualism and an awkward peppering of italicized Spanish phrases.”

In other words, readers and critics alike thought that Cummins’ portrayal of Mexican culture was despicable. Cummins, being a white woman, was deemed extremely insensitive for writing about a culture she had never experienced, nor knew anything about.

In an interview with Cummins, she stated that she had done “five years of research” and “endeavored to be incredibly culturally sensitive.” However, many people feel as though these five years of research weren’t enough.

Or, on the other hand, they believe that, within this five-year period, Cummins should have been able to grasp a better understanding of what she should avoid writing. The latter believe that Cummins failed. Their beliefs are rooted in the thought that Cummins wrote everything she should’ve learned to avoid in her researching period.

If we take a break from looking at the criticisms Cummins received, it is clear that some support her choice to write a book about Mexican migrants. For instance, a big argument is that Cummins, as an author, has creative freedom when it comes to writing what has been classified as a fictional story.

People take issue with the fact that Cummins is obtaining so much criticism, while other authors who write in similar fashions have flown under the radar. They question why Cummins is expected to include a realistic plot, when fiction-based writing is supposed to call for creative freedom, including the inclusion of unrealistic events.

Now, I finished reading this book recently, and this is how I was introduced to the surrounding controversy. I, personally, feel as though the criticism Cummins has faced is unjust. She, like many other authors, brought diversity to the world of literature through writing about a culture other than her own.

Cummins' responsibility as an author was to write, and that's what she did. The responsibility of her readers was to read, interpret, and discuss, and that's what they did. Everyone played their part, and now the cookie is crumbling.

Clarissa Poston

Posted on April 10, 2021 15:43

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Jeanine Cummins is taking heat for her latest book, "American Dirt," a fictional story about a Mexican family fleeing to...

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