#DignidadLiteraria is new to the LIS field, but it has already created interesting discussions about publishing, who is represented in library collections, and who gets to speak on behalf of marginalized groups.
Laurie Bridges, an academic librarian from Oregon, created a Wikipedia page on #DignidadLiteraria. In brief, it’s a campaign to increase Latino inclusion in the publishing industry sparked by American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins and the phenomenal review by Myriam Gurba.
I wasn’t going to read it, but then I saw a local bookstore’s Facebook comment on a now-cancelled author signing event, stating that they asked a “Mexican-American in her 60’s, a Mexican-American in her 30’s, a Latina in her 20’s, and a Syrian refugee in her 30’s” to read the book, and not one person saw any stereotypes. This may be Wyoming, with our three voices in the United States Congress; but I never expected for the last word on a book to be left up to these four voices selected by the bookstore.
I felt bad lobbing criticism at the idea of this book without having read it. I also felt bad about using my library powers to make my hold first in the queue, so off to the store I went to track down a copy, putting my money into the pockets of the author and publisher. Also, I knew any criticism wouldn’t be heard if I hadn’t read it. So here I am, with a book I don’t want to read in front of me. Following the wise words of Nancy Pearl, I gave it 50 pages of my time, and then stopped. Definitely not for me, and I can see why many have had issues with it. The book is currently waiting on a processing cart to be added to my library’s collection as a donation.
Some reviews say the language is beautiful, and while language use and interpretation changes from person to person, I couldn’t get past the terrible punctuation. The best part about this language? All the hilarious variations of “Writing My Latino Novel” on Twitter. These show just how ridiculous the commas and Spanish words are throughout the book. It’s foreign and shows that this book wasn’t written for Spanish speakers.
So how does #DignidadLiteraria relate to the LIS profession? REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking, issued a statement in support of #DignidadLiteraria. In it, REFORMA states it is working to establish a reading list and an annual adult fiction award to highlight stories that are written by and resonate with Latinos. Various authors, like Sandra Cisneros, have maintained their support for Cummins, while 124 others have asked Oprah to reconsider it as her pick for Oprah’s Book Club. These voices—those that see how this is a poor portrayal of an oppressed group, those that have influenced Cummins’ work to the point of seeing it in the book itself—are the voices that should be in our collections.
In my short years working and studying in the LIS profession, I’ve seen and heard “they just don’t check out” more times than I can count. But have we given them a chance? Have we created displays to highlight unheard voices outside of their respective commemorative months? This is where it ties to LIS. Our collections are windows to the world and mirrors into our selves. Marginalized groups should see themselves in the stacks so that they know they are welcome and seen. They can be authors and tell their own story, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. With these types of books on the shelves, others will see it and hopefully learn something new and genuine about a culture different from their own.
I’m not saying American Dirt shouldn’t be in a library collection, and as noted, my own copy will soon be the 5th copy in our collection to fulfill holds. And tying back into readers’ advisory, I can see how this book would fit into the story-driven category. The way the punctuation is sprinkled in every single line makes it easy to continue reading page after page. The novel is so fast-paced that many will find it hard to put down. That, and the inaccurate portrayal of the lives of these people may even lead them to other, more accurate books about life along the border.
And now I’ll go back to writing my own Latino novel, at my biblioteca, where I work, not at the Home Depot down the road. Have you read American Dirt? What did you think?
Conrrado is an online MLIS student at the University of Washington iSchool and an Adult Services Specialist at the Natrona County Library.