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Oprah's Book Club comes under fire over 'American Dirt' choice

Oprah Winfrey at Apple's March event
Oprah Winfrey at Apple's March event (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Oprah has come under fire over her decision to endorse 'American Dirt' for her Oprah's Book Club series.
  • Jeanine Cummins' book has been criticized over its condescending treatment of race.
  • The news comes in wake of her decision to step away from an Apple TV+ documentary about Russell Summons and sexual assault in the music industry.

Writers and journalists have written an open letter asking Oprah to rescind her endorsement of Jeanine Cummins' book 'American Dirt' for her series Apple TV+ series Oprah's Book Club.

As reported by Variety:

Before signing an open letter asking Oprah Winfrey to rescind her endorsement of Jeanine Cummins' "American Dirt," her latest book club pick, Jose Antonio Vargas spent the day digging around on YouTube. "I was listening to interviews between Toni Morrison and Oprah Winfrey, and I was listening to them thinking, what would Toni Morrison say about this moment? What would she say to Oprah Winfrey?"Vargas, a journalist and activist who immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines as a child, was one of many writers — the letter attracted 138 signatories from the literary world — who asked Winfrey to rescind her selection of "American Dirt." The novel, written by a woman who identifies as white and Latina and about a mother and son fleeing violence trying to enter the U.S. at the border with Mexico, has been widely criticized for a condescending treatment of race. And Winfrey's inclusion of it has helped to kick off a press cycle as negative as the star has endured in memory.

Variety also notes that Oprah has already subjected herself to plenty of controversy, over her decision to step away from an Apple TV+ documentary which examined sexual assault in the music industry, specifically focusing on media figure Russell Summons. Oprah says herself that she had expressed her concerns about the documentary, citing a lack of creative control and worries about inconsistencies in the story.

The more recent controversy regarding 'American Dirt' has lead to the book's tour being cancelled. An open letter to Oprah has been signed by 138 writers and states:

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.

Oprah joined forces with Apple to create Oprah's Book Club in the hopes that it would become "the world's most vibrant book club... engaging readers everywhere in conversations with one anothers." Public outcry and the aforementioned open letter probably isn't what she had in mind.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple.