Why Oprah’s Book Club Dropped ‘My Dark Vanessa’ as Its March Pick

The move follows the earlier backlash the Club received for its January pick, 'American Dirt'

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More book drama for Oprah
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By Kayla Kibbe / March 6, 2020 6:00 am

Following some minor Twitter drama, Oprah’s Book Club has dropped its March pick, My Dark Vanessa, Publishers Lunch reported earlier this week.

The novel by Kate Elizabeth Russell became the subject of controversy on Twitter back in January, when Latinx writer Wendy Ortiz took to the platform to note certain similarities between Russell’s forthcoming novel, which details a relationship between a teenager and her high school English teacher, and Ortiz’s 2014 memoir Excavation. 

“[C]an’t wait until February when a white woman’s book of fiction that sounds very much like Excavation is lauded,” Ortiz tweeted, prompting her followers to suggest Russell had lifted the plot of My Dark Vanessa from Excavation.

The dispute was quickly resolved, after Russell confirmed that My Dark Vanessa was inspired by her own experiences and had been in the works for 20 years, and Ortiz clarified that her initial tweet intended to critique the publishing industry’s treatment of her own memoir, not to accuse Russell of plagiarism.

The drama surrounding My Dark Vanessa was thus relatively short-lived, but happened to coincide with a much bigger ongoing controversy surrounding Oprah’s January pick, American Dirt. While Oprah’s Book Club has declined to specify why the book was dropped, Vulture speculated that the conflation of the two overlapping Twitter controversy may have contributed to the decision.

“We want to be sure that Ms. Winfrey continues to pick books she is passionate about, 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,” Leigh Haber, the books editor for magazine, told Vulture.

“I’m truly surprised that Oprah pulled her pick of My Dark Vanessa,” an unnamed industry insider told Vulture. “The controversy about American Dirt, which is legitimate, is a completely separate situation than the My Dark Vanessa controversy, which was a few days of Twitter drama that was quickly resolved.”

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