• Sara Rimer

    Senior Contributing Editor

    Sara Rimer

    Sara Rimer A journalist for more than three decades, Sara Rimer worked at the Miami Herald, Washington Post and, for 26 years, the New York Times, where she was the New England bureau chief, and a national reporter covering education, aging, immigration, and other social justice issues. Her stories on the death penalty’s inequities were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and cited in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision outlawing the execution of people with intellectual disabilities. Her journalism honors include Columbia University’s Meyer Berger award for in-depth human interest reporting. She holds a BA degree in American Studies from the University of Michigan. Profile

    She can be reached at srimer@bu.edu.

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There are 15 comments on The “American Dirt” Controversy: Lessons for Writers on Getting Cultures Right

  1. The more she is attacked, the more I feel sorry for Jeanine Cummins — who wrote American Dirt because she cared. People should read the book for themselves. I suspect many readers will be moved and inspired to read more books on this subject.

    1. I suggest you read through the interview once more. The issue isn’t that Jeanine Cummins was the person to write her book, it’s how she did it. Personal attacks are not productive, everyone can agree on that. It is productive, however, to criticize writers with social and cultural power who write at the expense of others’ humanity. Sure, Jeanine Cummins may have written the novel because she cares. But the people of color criticizing her writing and the publishing industry also do so because they care, and they are the ones who are most affected by this controversy. Jeanine was paid a seven figure advance, let’s not forget about that.

      1. “But the people of color criticizing her writing and the publishing industry also do so because they care, and they are the ones who are most affected by this controversy. ”

        We actually don’t know if they’re the ones most affected, or even affected at all. Just because one has a Hispanic surname does not mean that he was a refugee. It’s possible to grow up Hispanic in America and not care one little bit. I know that messes with your worldview, but it’s the truth. We really need to get past this obsession that people like you have with skin color. The vast majority of the rest of us look deeper. You don’t, and that’s fine, but I’m not going to let you present your worldview as the norm. It’s not. Dirt was a compelling story. It humanized migrants in a way precious little else has. There’s great value in that, even if it comes from whitey.

  2. I listened to the audio book twice. I read the criticisms after.
    I have worked with workers from these countries for 25 years,
    know some of their stories; some who came here as teenagers
    I was fortunate to have traveled to one of these countries, as a
    guest; I was welcomed, stayed with family, and immersed in culture.
    Not, not among the wealthy and priviledged, regular people, like myself
    I admire them as good people, family people, and friends and appreciate
    the communities they have formed here to navigate the immigrant
    experience that awaited them here, and I will continue to support “them”
    There isn’t enough literature documenting the challenges to be faced
    on the journey, and the reasons that force these men and women to make
    the decision to “leave the land they love”…….Any book can be criticized;
    it would be unfortunate if the criticism of American Dirt dissuaded many
    not to read it. It may not be “perfect” as the criticism of the novel suggests,
    it was well done, peaked my interest, and I will recommend it to my reading
    family and friends; our grandparents were immigrants too.
    I will read Mr Suarez’ book about Cuba, which will interest me
    as well, when it becomes available.

  3. You mean piqued your interest not peaked your interest … I am an immigrant as well. I believe that the book was written and the author was given an assignment and a lot of money to write of the Mexican refugee experience for political reasons. So for me I question the integrity of not only the author but the story.

  4. I chose American Dirt as one of the books for my book club. I had no idea about the controversy surrounding it. This book was intense and a page turner. You want these characters to survive. You want them to be unharmed. You cry for them. We haven’t even reviewed the book formally and It has already had an impact on our members. There has been research and sharing of information about ways that we can all help. Some of us have discussed reading more titles regarding the migrant crisis that are not fictional. This was all accomplished by a Fictional novel. If a fictional novel can make us step back, feel with our hearts and want to take action in real life why can’t the author be applauded? Fiction doesn’t require complete accuracy. We’re not reading fiction the way we would read a journalist’s contribution. In fiction we are allowed to fill in gaps for ourselves. Jeanine Cummins may end up being more of a bridge than she ever knew she could be. She may be the bridge between the Latinx authors and the publishing companies.
    When we do review this book I will play the Oprah Book club American Dirt videos. I want to hear what all of these members have to say about how a fictional book with multiple humanitarian messages became all about publishing companies and the authors who feel scorned by them. I wonder if gratitude should be more appropriate. The authors have had National exposure, although I’m not sure if I would call it positive exposure. I found it interesting that, when it had been determined that the frustration and controversy lie in the publishing company’s hands and not Jeanine’s, one of the Latinx Authors still directly called her out on what she was doing to be a bridge. I believe Jeanine has already been a bridge: a bridge for her readers, a bridge for every class, a bridge for every heart, a bridge for every color, and yes a bridge for the Latinx authors who want to be published and probably wanted to be the ones who wrote a book that became a bridge like this one.

  5. Everyone is a critic! This is a work of fiction that touches on some of the problems and horrible violence we read about in Mexico, be it drug cartels, water thieves, avocado farms or other lawlessness.
    Daniel Suarez admits that he didn’t read the book. He only read a couple of chapters.
    I am enjoying the book. I am treating it as a work of fiction with some small educational value. I appreciate that the main character is intelligent, a college graduate with means. We are fed the story that migrants are poor unwashed that will demand that we provide for them. I wonder if Mr Suarez resents the 7 figure advance more than what he sees as inconsistencies in the accuracy of the actual Mexican experience. Relax people it’s good fiction. Does everything have to be a test?

  6. If you want nonfiction accounts with heart and soul, read Luis Alberto Urrea’s “Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border,” “By the Lake of Sleeping Children,” and “The Devil’s Highway.” Luis grew up in Tijuana and San Diego; he’s bilingual, bi-national, and bicultural, and was a translator on the border for a while. I went to creative writing grad school with him for a year, and I can tell you that he’s a person of integrity who certainly has not received a million dollars to write any book. And he has a great sense of humor and humanity.

    Check out his web page; he’s written and published novels and poetry, too, for decades.

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