Posted on 03/06/2020 at 09:30 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell was supposed to be Oprah Winfrey’s book club pick for March 2020.

But in January, as controversy roiled over Winfrey’s selection of American Dirt and as another author voiced concerns over Russell’s debut novel, Winfrey quietly decided to drop it.

A spokesperson for Russell’s publisher confirmed this information to Publishers Lunch earlier this week.

When Vulture reached out to O magazine books editor Leigh Haber, she wouldn’t comment specifically on the My Dark Vanessa decision.

But she did speak in generalities about the drama surrounding these novels.

“We want to be sure that Ms. Winfrey continues to pick books she is passionate about,” she said, “but we also want to be really mindful that the selection process doesn’t create noise around the book that will drown out the discussion of the book itself and prevent her from being able to focus on what’s in the book and the author.”

While anticipation was high for both novels — and while the controversy over each was, on the surface, about the authors who chose to tell the stories — the criticisms are ultimately somewhat different.

American Dirt, say its critics, is an inaccurate depiction of Mexico and Mexican immigrants, and publishers could have — and should have — instead signed any number of Latinx authors writing with more authenticity about immigration issues, rather than Jeanine Cummins.

Some also question whether it capitalizes on the suffering of migrants desperate to reach the US.

My Dark Vanessa, meanwhile, features a main character who had an inappropriate relationship with one of her teachers during her teen years; Russell has made a statement regarding the book's inspiration that opens with "I would like to share with my readers that My Dark Vanessa, which I’ve been working on for nearly 20 years, was inspired by my own experiences as a teenager."

Another author, Wendy C. Ortiz, began tweeting before she'd read the still-unreleased novel that it sounded like it was similar to her own memoir, and she questioned why publishers ignored her work but picked up Russell's.

Vulture points out that the tweetstorm over My Dark Vanessa has mostly subsided, while Cummins and Winfrey have put themselves on a sort of trial in a TV special set to air today on Apple TV+.

Take a deeper dive into the American Dirt versus My Dark Vanessa issue in Vulture.

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