American Booksellers for Free Expression Comments on “American Dirt” [4]

American Dirt by Jeanine CumminsAt the 2020 Winter Institute [5] in Baltimore, the American Booksellers Association invited American Dirt [6] author Jeanine Cummins to engage in conversation with bookseller Javier Ramirez as part of the education session “Creating Conversations Around American Dirt.”

A video recording of the session is now available in BookWeb’s Education Resources [7]. A BookWeb username and password are required to access the video; booksellers who need login information can e-mail info@bookweb.org [8].

In addition, in response to the many conversations circulating about American Dirt, its author, and publisher Flatiron, the American Booksellers for Free Expression [9], the free speech arm of ABA, released the following statement on January 29:

The recent publication of Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt has sparked controversy across the country. Despite one’s opinion of, or reaction to, the book, there is no question that American Dirt has spurred important, and sometimes challenging, dialogue. The crucial nature of these conversations cannot be overstated, nor can the importance of the First Amendment, which protects the full range of opinions being voiced about the author and her book.

Among these conversations are questions and discussions as to whether free expression, guaranteed by the First Amendment, is valid in its present form, in that it can protect hate speech or material that many, including the most marginalized and powerless of our society, may find offensive and hurtful. ABFE believes that the conversations about American Dirt are not only protected by the First Amendment, but that they are essential in a society founded on democratic ideals. It is crucial that all voices are heard.

The fullest expression of the First Amendment is that it protects the voices of the oppressed, the underrepresented, and the marginalized. Unfortunately, history has shown all too often that these are the voices silenced by a government’s failure to respect the right of free expression for all.

ABFE supports the challenging, and sometimes difficult, conversations and dialogue surrounding American Dirt. Importantly, ABFE strongly supports the rights of bookstores to stock — or not to stock — American Dirt, and, also, to host the author, if they choose. ABFE also strongly supports the rights of those opposed to, or offended by, the book to protest.

ABFE strongly opposes attempts to block the sale of any book as well as any actions expressly intended to cancel author or book events regarding American Dirt or any title. ABFE believes the entire community of the book is strengthened when, together, we reaffirm the right of booksellers to curate their stores and to schedule events as they see fit, in light of their communities and the staff.

Critical examination of fiction and nonfiction work is welcome, as is protest and counter speech. Reasoned and robust debate on any published work makes our nation and our culture more diverse and stronger.

The American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) is the bookseller’s voice in the fight for free speech. Its mission is to promote and protect the free exchange of ideas, particularly those contained in books, by opposing restrictions on the freedom of speech; issuing statements on significant free expression controversies; participating in legal cases involving First Amendment rights; collaborating with other groups with an interest in free speech; and providing education about the importance of free expression to booksellers, other members of the book industry, politicians, the press and the public. 

Questions can be directed to ABA Director of ABFE, Advocacy, Public Policy Dave Grogan [10].

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