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McAllen Public Library Opts Out Of Promoting 'American Dirt'

The McAllen Public Library
Barbara Brannon/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
The McAllen Public Library is declining to participate in a promotion of "American Dirt," which was booked for Oprah's Book Club.

From Texas Standard:

Jeanine Cummins' novel American Dirt has caught the attention of many, but not for the right reasons. Her story about a Mexican bookseller fleeing to the United States with her son has caused a lot of controversy. Critics say the book uses stereotypes, and it has been rejected by Mexican and Mexican-American readers – the audience for whom the story was intended.

But others have praised the novel, including Oprah Winfrey, who says the book shows “what it means to be a migrant on the run for freedom.”

She announced the book would be an Oprah's Book Club selection. As part of a new initiative to include local libraries in her book club, Winfrey selected several in the Southwest to receive boxes of the book, in hopes they would promote it. The McAllen Public Library in South Texas was one of them.

Kate Horan, the library's director, says she was excited to be chosen by Oprah's Book Club, but wasn’t told what novel Winfrey’s team would be sending. She was also instructed to videotape the "unboxing" of the book delivery.

When she opened the box, Horan knew there was going to be a problem.

“I already know too many negative things about it and already don’t feel that this would be something I can get behind,” Horan says. “They picked us, McAllen, for a reason: We’re on the border. I had to make a decision: Do I go with this or do I not?”

Horan, who has read American Dirt, says it is a “Hollywoodized version” of a migrant’s experience. She says the book banks on a story about “brown people suffering,” which is why she declined to participate with Oprah’s Book Club in promoting it, out of respect for the people in her community – people she says she “represents.”

“Based on the responses I’ve gotten, which have been very positive, I think people have respect for the library and the decisions I’ve made along with my staff,” she says. “This was the right thing for us to do.”

Despite opting out of promoting the novel, Horan says the library will make several copies available for checkout.

Written by Samantha Carrizal.

Kristen Cabrera is a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, where she saw snow for the first time and walked a mile through a blizzard. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, she graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American (now UTRGV) and is a former KUT News intern. She has been working as a freelance audio producer, writer and podcaster. Email her:
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