The continuing furore over Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt (Flatiron/Macmillan US; Tinder/Hachette UK) which has already seen the cancellation of the author’s American tour, is fascinating to watch. Nearly 140 authors “from diverse backgrounds” wrote to Oprah asking her to reconsider her choice of the title for her book club and in response she has pledged to host a conversation with people “from all sides” of the issue, to have an in-depth discussion about cultural appropriation and the question of “who gets to publish what stories.”
On Monday two Latinx campaign groups #DignidadLiteraria and Presente.org met with Macmillan at its offices in New York and then held a press conference in a local park. The groups say they have secured commitment from Macmillan to “substantially increase Latinx representation across Macmillan, including authors, titles, staff and its overall literary ecosystem… develop an action plan to address these objectives within 90 days… [and] regroup within 30 days with #DignidadLiteraria and other Latinx groups to assess progress”.
The group had intended to launch the hashtag #DignidadLiteraria at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in San Antonia next month, but the debate surrounding Cummins’ novel made them bring it forward.
Needless to say, in terms of putting books on the news pages, on the Op Ed pages, on TV and radio, the row has been perfect. People are buying the novel to make up their own mind and the debate gives bookstores the perfect opportunity to feature Latinx authors on tables marked “Here is the real American Dirt’, or ‘Here’s more American Dirt’, rather in the way US indies reacted quickly when Trump allegedly asked off camera “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here”; indies immediately created tables headed ‘Books from Shithole countries’.
Still with Latin America, Colombia’s publishers have launched a campaign to educate young people about the problem of book piracy. Camlibro, the Colombian Book Chamber, has developed a program for schools and universities that explains the roles of people in the publishing supply chain, from proof-reader to translator. Last year it is estimated that 198 billion pesos (approximately $58.5m) of Colombia’s book industry was lost to piracy.
Italy has also been highlighting the curse of piracy. The Association of Italian Publishers (AIP) and the Federation of Italian Newspaper Publishers (FINP) have called for government intervention following the results of a new study on the effect piracy is having on the Italian market. It is estimated that $585m is lost to piracy every year by the Italian book industry.
The coronavirus has led to the postponement of the Taipei International Book Exhibition which was due to run this week. The Ministry of Culture in Taiwan said: “Taiwanese publishers have expressed their concerns about the coronavirus affecting readers’ attendance and participation. Publishers have suggested the Ministry of Culture, Taiwan, postpone the book fair.” Taiwan has confirmed eight people are infected with coronavirus.
Meanwhile, publishers with Chinese offices, among them Springer Nature, Pearson and Taylor & Francis are all taking precautionary measures, including banning all business travel to and from China and advising staff to work at home.
The global book community is noting the passing of another giant of American publishing – Alice Mayhew, vice-president and editorial director of Simon & Schuster, who died this week at the age of 87. Paying tribute, the publisher’s president and CEO Carolyn Reidy noted that in her nearly 50 years with the company she established herself as a true mainstay of our publishing efforts, editing a distinguished list of writers in history, biography, journalism, politics, contemporary affairs and popular culture”.
Most famously Mayhew was the editor of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s All the President’s Men and she remained Woodward’s editor for all his books with the publisher. Reidy concluded: “It is difficult to imagine Simon & Schuster without Alice and her unrelenting energy: her contribution to our company and our culture has been immense, and she will be deeply missed both here and in the larger literary community.”
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.