‘I really loved the book’

Oprah Winfrey has no regrets about sticking by American Dirt.

In January 2020, the media mogul courted controversy after she unveiled Jeanine Cummins’ divisive novel — centered on a mother and son who are forced to flee their lives in their native Mexico and escape to the U.S. as migrants — as her Oprah’s Book Club pick. In the inaugural episode of ABC News’ literary podcast The Book Case on Monday, Winfrey reflected on the decision to stick by the title despite criticisms and calls to reconsider.

“I had chosen that book and stood by that book because the truth of the matter is, I really loved the book,” Winfrey said. “And that was the only reason I was choosing the book, because I really loved the book. And even though lots of people were asking me now to disown that, I’d already owned it, so I wasn’t going to go back on my word and now say, ‘Well, because you think she shouldn’t have written the book, I no longer liked the book.'”

Oprah Winfrey; American Dirt

Oprah Winfrey; American Dirt

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images; Flatiron Books Oprah Winfrey addresses controversial January 2020 book club pick, ‘American Dirt’

While American Dirt had been lauded by various outlets and celebrated novelists (such as Stephen King and Don Winslow), it received sharp criticism from the Latinx community. Writers and activists maintained that it perpetuated harmful stereotypes and peddled “trauma porn.” Carmen Maria Machado, Daniel José Older, and R.O. Kwon were among the 82 diverse writers to pen an open letter to Winfrey asking her to reconsider her pick, calling the book “exploitative, oversimplified, and ill-informed” and citing accusations that it makes heavy use of other Latinx writers’ works.

At the time, Winfrey addressed the controversy with a video on Instagram, announcing that she would host a larger discussion about the book in her Apple TV+ series Oprah’s Book Club. “We’ve read and continue to read your comments. It’s clear that we need to have a different kind of conversation about American Dirt and we welcome everyone’s thoughts and opinions in our community,” she said, adding, “What I want to do is bring people together from all sides to talk about this book and who gets to publish what stories. I’m hoping that’s going to resonate with many of you and your concerns.”

Winfrey told journalist Charlie Gibson, who co-hosts The Book Case with his daughter, Katie, that she still appreciates the novel, adding that it helped her form newfound perspective about the migration process. “I really appreciated that book, and it helped me to see immigrants and the whole migration process differently than I had before,” Winfrey said. “So it opened up a space in me, allowed me to see things differently, and I appreciated that from the author and I thought the story was well told.”

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