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The Novelist Meme Pokes Fun at Well-Worn Clichés About Growing Up in America

The controversy surrounding American Dirt has launched our new favorite literary meme.

American dirt book cover

Jeanine Cummins’ novel American Dirt, which chronicles the Latinx immigrant experience of a single mother and her son fleeing Mexico for America, is receiving major backlash and criticism of its white author for trafficking in racist stereotypes. The novel, an Oprah’s Book Club selection, has since been lambasted for its lack of authenticity and for, as Myriam Gurba describes it in her review:

“Her obra de caca belongs to the great American tradition of doing the following:

1. Appropriating genius works by people of color
2. Slapping a coat of mayonesa on them to make palatable to taste buds estados-unidenses and
3. Repackaging them for mass racially “colorblind” consumption.”

The issue is simple: Cummins is a white woman who is receiving outsized acclaim for telling a story that is not her own, and that could be better told by a Latinx author. But of course, authors of color don’t have the access and support system that white authors do. I don’t think there’s a better metaphor for the obliviousness of this book and its publishers than these barbed wire wall flower arrangements at the launch party:

The controversy has since inspired the brilliant “novelist meme,” where Twitter users are comparing literary stereotypes about their hometowns with their actual lived experience:

This meme is intensely relatable for literature fans, but especially for those of us from cliché-riddled hometowns. As a New Orleans native, folks often assume that I grew up in cross between a Tennessee Williams play and a Girls Gone Wild video. The reality is that I grew up in the Fire Swamp from The Princess Bride filled to the brim with drunk tourists.

These literary tropes are so ingrained that they’ve become an indelible part of Americana, reinforced by white authors recycling the same stereotypes. But our country is so much more varied and complex than that. If you want to enjoy an authentic look at the immigrant experience, I cannot recommend Apple TV+’s Little America enough.

What are your hometown clichés? Are any of them true? Let us know in the comments!

(via Twitter, image: Flatiron Books)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. She currently lives in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband and two poorly behaved rescue dogs. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.