In the Wake of the ‘American Dirt’ Controversy, Writers Speak out Against Death Threats

By February 23, 2020 Authors, News

Published earlier this year in January, Jeanine Cummins’ novel American Dirt has been met with controversy since its release. It was initially received positively, debuting at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and was selected for Oprah Winfrey’s book club. However, the book has since faced criticism for its depiction of Mexico and Mexican people. The criticism came to a head when it was announced in late January by Cummins’ publisher, Flatiron, that the author’s book tour would be cancelled following threats of “physical violence.”

As The Guardian reports, The Latinx group Dignidad Literaria, which was created by writers following the controversy of American Dirt, claimed that many critics of Cummin’s work have received death threats, but that she herself had not, though Flatiron has stood by the statement it released in January, which described “specific threats to booksellers and the author” that constituted “real peril to their safety.”

Chicana writer Myriam Gurba was one of the first to criticise American Dirt for its “overly ripe Mexican stereotypes,” and has since received at least one death threat for it, which she has written about publically. Spearheaded by Gurba, authors have now united to make a ‘Death Quilt‘ from the death threats they have received during their careers. The authors say the quilt shows that “being a writer in the United States, in particular one who is situated on the margins, makes one extremely vulnerable to threats of violence and death.”

“Inspired by the Aids Quilt, we have created a Death Threat Quilt to illustrate that speaking truth to pwr from the margins is dangerous,” stated Gurba on Twitter. “Death threats r a fact of life for those of us who don’t live in ivory lighthouses.”

Speaking to The Guardian, Gurba said she’s “not at all surprised” by the speed with which the “quilt” has grown. “My friends and I have been sharing horror stories like those that the quilt is made of, for years,” said the writer.

A number of high profile authors have spoken out on the controversy, including Stephen King, who tweeted “We don’t threaten writers with violence. Not in America.” Roxane Gay has also spoken out about her experiences with death threats, revealing that she receives so many she pays for security for herself and her home. Gay said it’s “important to acknowledge the death threats people receive for daring to have opinions, for daring to be black or brown or queer or disabled or women or trans or any marginalised identity.”

“People need to realise what real censorship looks like. They need to understand how unsafe it can be to challenge authority and the status quo. These are not things that should be taken lightly, nor should this level of harassment be dismissed as mere trolling. You never know when one of those so-called trolls is going to take his rage from the internet into the physical world.”

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