Higher-ups from Macmillan met privately in their offices in New York for two hours on Monday with representatives of #DignidadLiteraria, a coalition of Latinx members of the literary, publishing, and academic communities, to discuss the recent controversy over this season's Flatiron Books lead title, American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, and attempt to chart a way forward.
Among those at the meeting were #DignidadLiteraria representatives and authors David Bowles, Myriam Gurba, and Roberto Lovato, as were Macmillan president Don Weisberg, Flatiron Books president Bob Miller, and representatives from a number of Macmillan imprints, Bowles said. A publicist from an independent firm hired by Macmillan was also there, Bowles said; two representatives of Oprah Winfrey—whose book club chose the controversial title as its January pick—and O, the Oprah Magazine also listened in by phone. Also present was Matt Nelson, executive director of Presente.org, the Latinx organizing group.
"We came to the table with some specific ideas on how to build in greater representation at Macmillan, both in terms of titles and the actual editorial staff," Bowles said during a press conference on Monday afternoon in lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park. "And we are super happy to announce that they have agreed with us and we have a way to move forward now." He added: "This is a clear victory for nuestra gente."
According to #DignidadLiteraria, which called the meeting successful, Macmillan agreed to committing to substantially increasing Latinx representation in both staff at the publisher and in the books it published. To achieve this, Bowles said during the press conference, Macmillan pledged to draw up an action plan to be written within 90 days and to meet again with representatives from the movement in 30 days. The group, in conjunction with Presente.org, tweeted a press release detailing the agreement shortly after.
At the press conference, Lovato made clear that despite the meeting with Macmillan and, specifically, Flatiron, the issue was bigger than just the one book that kickstarted the conversation. The hashtag #DignidadLiteraria, in fact, was intended to be rolled out at the AWP conference in San Antonio this year, its founders said, but circumstances surrounding reactions to Cummins's novel led to its early deployment.
"At this stage in the crisis in U.S. publishing, Jeanine Cummins is irrelevante," Lovato said. "This is not about Jeanine Cummins. This is about us. Reducing the fight of 60 million people in the United States to the doings of a single white woman who steals and screws up our stories is not just simplistic but racist. Our fight is against the systemic racism and exclusion of the industry that created her, while also denying us the opportunity to tell our stories."
One specific proposal that was floated during the meeting, Lovato told PW Wednesday evening, was the establishment of a “business unit” in Los Angeles. “We were very clear about things that could constitute a real game changer, like putting a business unit in L.A., staffed by people who live there and know the market there," he said. "Trying to produce Latino literature solely from New York has led to failure. It’s good business sense to think beyond New York City when it comes to Latino books. Publishing is only beginning to realize that a lot of voices are being erased from the conversation as the majority of the Latino population [in the U.S.] lives on the other side of the Appalachians, in California and in the Southwest."
As for Oprah, Lovato added, “we didn’t agree to anything but we felt like we have a pending conversation with Oprah and her empire. She says she wants a national conversation involving all sides. As far as we're concerned, there are only two sides: almost 60 million people who are Latino, and the publishing industry."
PW reached out to Flatiron president Bob Miller but has yet to receive a comment.
"Roberto, David, and I came to New York on a restorative and reparative mission," Gurba said in her statement at the press conference. "We came not only to extend an olive branch to Flatiron. We came to offer our assistance in restoring the dignity of all parties harmed. We offered Flatiron a chance to wipe away the dirt."
In a statement sent to PW Wednesday evening, Gurba added: "Overall, the meeting went well. You could smell the discomfort of some folks in the room and that was important: meaningful change is typically accompanied by 'growing pains' and B.O. I was also able to express to [Macmillan executives] that while this experience has undoubtedly been difficult for them, having my life repeatedly threatened for engaging in literary criticism has not been fun. I'll lean on cliché and say that I'm cautiously optimistic. I hope Macmillan follows through with the initiative we suggested, one which will bring systemic changes to publishing and demolish the walls that keep POC folks out."
Lovato disclosed that plans are in place for book people—publishers, editors, authors, agents, and readers—in 11 cities across the country, "from L.A. to New York City," to address the "crisis in Latino publishing" in gatherings this week. "People are talking. The entire community is inspired, angry, and ready to take action. This is not just a Macmillan or a Flatiron problem; this is an industry-wide problem."
The entire press conference was live-streamed via the PW Instagram account, and can be viewed here.