Monday, March 9, 2020

WHO Decides Who Gets to Be Published? Part One

My mind has been unsettled in 2020 for many reasons. And when I speak,  I hope that readers will realize that I express my viewpoint only, and that although I try to be mindful of all the facts, that some might not be in my hand. I totally welcome your viewpoints and hope you will express them.

I have had severe misgivings about some of the public opinion regarding the publication of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. But I will say for now, that as a writer and as a person who has tried and tried to write fiction, it has been hard for me to hear from some critics that only people with "authentic voices" can and should write novels like American Dirt, and certainly not a white writer like Cummins. A white writer should not write a novel about a Mexican woman and her child and their descent into hell as they struggle to escape drug cartel violence and migrate to the U.S.
This book was an Oprah pick before all the voices erupted, and I have to applaud Oprah for sticking by her choice of this novel. Cummins researched her novel for five years. Does this make her an "authentic voice?" No, of course not. But here's the hitch: There is not currently an authentic voice writing fiction about the Mexican migrant experience at this time. Does this woman who spent five years researching her fiction deserve to be silenced? I certainly hope not!
There is so much more to say about this topic. But my greatest concern is that in the future only those who have the "authentic voice" will be able to write about any group of people--a dangerous precedent.
We might end by saying, "Exactly what is fiction? And who should write it?" I have so much more to say about this topic, but naturally I need to do research first.

Part One:
Sorry to be putting Part One last. But I am saddened that Hachette Publishing (one of the big 5 publishing conglomerates) decided late last week NOT to publish a work they had acquired quite some time ago. This is, of course, Woody Allen's memoir Apropos of Nothing, which was scheduled to be released on April 7th.   You know? Yikes--I'm supposed to be cooking dinner right this minute, so I must postpone this discussion until tomorrow. How perfectly wretched. I am sorry.


  1. It strikes me that if only 'authentic voices' were allowed to write fiction then some of the greatest classics that belong to our civilisation would never have been written. This is, as you say Judith, *very* unsettling and it worries me. I feel like we're welcoming extreme censorship into our homes, giving it a cup of tea, and telling it to make itself at home.

    1. Hi Cath,
      Your thoughts are so well said and so well put. In the Woody Allen case, my thoughts are this: He is one of the most important and culturally significant directors of American cinema in the last 50 years (slightly longer). Does this mean that he will not be permitted, will be forbidden to talk at length about his experiences creating that essential body of work? That impoverishes US. And this goes without saying that he may have done what he's accused of doing. But should he be muzzled about writing about HIS body of work that so many people would like to hear about? Fact is, I believe it's entirely possible he may have done inappropriate things. He's got a grand lot of company in that department.

  2. I definitely agree with you about American Dirt. Those objecting to the book based upon the authors identity are practicing a kind of cultural segregation. I have been blogging about a school of thought that many of us are calling postmodernism. Almost all the objections to American Dirt, as well as the tactic of going after the author’s identity, are pure postmodernism. Needless to say, I strongly oppose postmodernism.

    I think that I agree with you on the Woody Allen situation, I just need to delve into the details more in order to have a string opinion.

    1. Hi Brian,
      Thanks so much for weighing in on this topic.
      For the record, I agree that publishers need to work with and embrace all voices, but it will not happen as quickly as lots of people would like it to, due to the realities of insufficient staffing in the publishing industry as a whole and the volume of writers who would like to see their work published.