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Heartland : A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth - Sarah Smarsh


A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth

Paperback Published: 15th October 2018
ISBN: 9781925713633
Number Of Pages: 304

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A perfect companion to Evicted and Nickel and Dimed, Heartland reveals one woman's experience of working class poverty with a startlingly observed, eye-opening, and topical personal story.

During Sarah Smarsh's turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, the forces of cyclical poverty and the country's changing economic policies solidified her family's place among the working poor. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country and examine the myths about people thought to be less because they earn less. Her personal history affirms the corrosive impact intergenerational poverty can have on individuals, families, and communities, and she explores this idea as lived experience, metaphor, and level of consciousness.

Smarsh was born a fifth generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side and the product of generations of teen mothers on her maternal side. Through her experiences growing up as the daughter of a dissatisfied young mother and raised predominantly by her grandmother on a farm thirty miles west of Wichita, we are given a unique and essential look into the lives of poor and working class Americans living in the heartland. Combining memoir with powerful analysis and cultural commentary, Heartland is an uncompromising look at class, identity, and the particular perils of having less in a country known for its excess.

About the Author

Sarah Smarsh has covered socioeconomic class, politics, and public policy for The Guardian, VQR, NewYorker, Harpers, The Texas Observer, and many others. She is currently a Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. A former professor of nonfiction writing, Smarsh is a frequent speaker on economic inequality and related media narratives. She lives in Kansas. Heartland is her first book.

Industry Reviews

‘“Class is an illusion with real consequences”, Smarsh writes in this candid and courageous memoir of growing up in a family of working-class farmers in Kansas during the 1980s and ’90s … Smarsh's raw and intimate narrative exposes a country of economic inequality that "has failed its children.’ STARRED REVIEWPublishers Weekly

‘[A] powerful message of class bias ... A potent social and economic message [is] embedded within an affecting memoir.’ STARRED REVIEWKirkus

‘A deeply humane memoir with crackles of clarifying insight, Heartland is one of a growing number of important works … that together merit their own section in non-fiction aisles across the country: America’s post-industrial decline. Or, perhaps, simply: class … Smarsh shows how the false promise of the “American dream” was used to subjugate the poor’ —Francesca Mari, The New York Times Book Review

‘You might think that a book about growing up on a poor Kansas farm would qualify as ‘sociology,’ and Heartland certainly does … But this book is so much more than even the best sociology. It is poetry — of the wind and snow, the two-lane roads running through the wheat, the summer nights when work-drained families drink and dance under the prairie sky.’ —Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed

‘Sarah Smarsh is one of America’s foremost writers on class. Heartland is about an impossible dream for anyone born into poverty — a leap up in class, doubly hard for a woman. Smarsh’s journey from a little girl into adulthood in Kansas speaks to tens of thousands of girls now growing up poor in what so many dismiss as ‘flyover country.’ Heartland offers a fresh and riveting perspective on the middle of the nation all too often told through the prism of men.’ —Dale Maharidge, author of Pulitzer Prize-winning And Their Children After Them

‘Sarah Smarsh — tough-minded and rough-hewn — draws us into the real lives of her family, barely making it out there on the American plains. There’s not a false note. Smarsh, as a writer, is Authentic with a capital A … This is just what the world needs to hear.’ —George Hodgman, author of Bettyville

‘Journalist Smarsh uses her background growing up in rural Kansas to illustrate the economic plight of the rural working poor … Will appeal to readers who enjoy memoirs and to sociologists. While Smarsh ends on a hopeful note, she offers a searing indictment of how the poor are viewed and treated in this country.’ —Caren Nichter, Library Journal

‘Growing up as one of the working poor has become a familiar theme of memoirs of late, but this book is more than a female-authored Hillbilly Elegy(2016). Smarsh employs an unusual and effective technique, throughout the book addressing her daughter, who does not, in reality, exist. Rather, she's the future that seemed destined for Smarsh, the same future that had been destined for and realised by all the women in her family … Elucidating reading on the challenges many face in getting ahead.’ —Joan Curbow, Booklist

Heartland is her map of home, drawn with loving hands and tender words. This is the nation’s class divide brought into sharp relief through personal history … [A] welcome interruption in the national silence that hangs over the lives of the poor and a repudiation of the culture of shame that swamps people who deserve better.’ —Elizabeth Catte , The Washington Post

‘The book is a personal, decades-long story of America’s coordinated assault on its underclass … This is a tough, no-nonsense woman telling truth, and telling it hard … The strongest element of Heartland, then, is its unabashed womanliness. At a time of national reckoning about endemic misogyny, Heartland does some serious feminist consciousness raising.’ —Leah Hampton , Los Angeles Review

‘In her sharply-observed, big-hearted memoir, Heartland, Smarsh chronicles the human toll of inequality, her own childhood a case study … [T]here’s an emotional power that comes through, a resonance that keeps readers focused on the weight and importance of Smarsh’s project.’ —Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe

‘Smarsh’s Heartland is a book we need: an observant, affectionate portrait of working-class America that possesses the power to resonate with readers of all classes.’ —Anita Felicelli, San Francisco Chronicle

‘Her book is smart, nuanced and atmospheric … In Heartland, Smarsh powerfully talks back to a world that mostly told her and her family they were disposable.’ —Maureen Corrigan, NPR

‘Her project is shot through with compassion and pride for the screwed-over working class, even while narrating her emergence from it.’ —Boris Kachka, Vulture

‘A poignant look at growing up in a town 30 miles from the nearest city; learning the value and satisfaction of hard, blue-collar work, and then learning that the rest of the country see that work as something to be pitied; watching her young mother's frustration with living at the “dangerous crossroads of gender and poverty” and understanding that such a fate might be hers, too. This idea is the thread that Smarsh so gracefully weaves throughout the narrative; she addresses the hypothetical child she might or might not eventually have and in doing so addresses all that the next generation Middle Americans living in poverty will face.’ —Buzzfeed

‘Blending memoir and reportage, a devastating and smart examination of class and the working poor in America, particularly the rural working poor. An excellent portrait of an often overlooked group.’ —Jaime Herndon, BookRiot

‘[A] memoir for our times.’ —Medium

‘The difficulty of transcending poverty is the message behind this personal history of growing up in the dusty farmlands of Kansas, where “nothing was more painful … than true things being denied” … The takeaway? The working poor don't need our pity; they need to be heard above the din of cliché and without so-called expert interpretation. Smarsh's family are expert enough to correct any misunderstandings about their lives.’ —Oprah.com

‘Sarah Smarsh looks at class divides in the United States while sharing her own story of growing up in poverty before ultimately becoming a fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Her memoir doesn't just focus on her own story; it also examines how multiple generations of her family were affected by economic policies and systems.’ —Stephanie Topacio Long, Bustle

‘If you're working towards a deeper understanding of our ruptured country, then Sarah Smarsh's memoir and examination of poverty in the American heartland is an essential read. Smarsh chronicles her childhood on the poverty line in Kansas in the ’80s and ’90s, and the marginalisation of people based on their income. When did earning less mean a person was worth less?’ —Elena Nicolaou, Refinery29

‘Part memories, part economic analysis, part sociological treatise, Heartland ties together various threads of American society of the last 40 years … Smarsh’s book is persuasive not only for the facts she marshals, but also because of the way she expresses it.’ —Dale Singer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

‘This is a provocative, well-researched book for our times … a difficult, but illuminating, book for these class-riven times.’ —Kim Ode , Minneapolis Star Tribune

Something about Sarah Smarsh’s writing makes you light up inside. You feel her joy and grief, fury and hope … That is how I felt reading Smarsh’s book: as if the world could wait until I got to the end. Smarsh’s book belongs with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy as a volume with a transformative vision — a message for a blind and uncaring America, which needs to wake up. Hopefully we will not just open our eyes. Hopefully we will also change.’ —The American Conservative

‘Combining heartfelt memoir with eye-opening social commentary, Smarsh braids together the stories of four generations of her rural red-state family.’ —People

‘In a memoir written with loving candour, the daughter of generations of serially impoverished Kansas wheat farmers and working-poor single mothers chronicles a family's unshakeable belief in the American dream and explains why it couldn't help but fail them.’ —Ms. Magazine

‘Smarsh’s book, a soul-baring meditation on poverty and class in America, tells the stories of her family’s wounded women, their farming men and her own wrenching choice to snap the three-generation cycle of teenage motherhood into which she was born … Her moving memoir can be seen as the female, Great Plains flip side to 2016’s best-selling Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance: a loving yet unflinching look at the marginalised people who grow America’s food, build its houses and airplanes but never seem to share fully in its prosperity.’ —New York Post

‘Smarsh seamlessly interweaves [her family's] tales with her own experiences and the political happenings of the day to tell a story that feels complete, honest and often poetic … Heartland shines brightest in moments like these, when colourful anecdotes bring childhood memories vividly to life. Beyond their entertainment value, these stories flesh out nuanced characters in complex situations, dispelling stereotypes about the working class. Smarsh bookends these engaging tales with social commentary and historical information … Heartland draws its strength from its storytelling and authority from its context and commentary.’ —Texas Observer

‘An important, timely work that details a family, a landscape, and a country that has changed dramatically since Smarsh’s birth in 1980. Heartland puts a very human face on the issue of economic inequality while also serving as an outstretched hand of sorts across the economic divide, seeking to connect readers from all economic backgrounds through a shared American story.’ —Iowa City Gazette

Heartland is an important book for this moment … Smarsh emerges as a writer, most potently, in her vivid encounters with the ironies of working-class life — her reflections on what it means to live poor can turn startlingly poetic.’ —EntertainmentWeekly.com

‘You might have read Sarah Smarsh's viral New York Times op-ed, which deconstructed the myth of the “aggrieved laborer: male, Caucasian, conservative, racist, sexist” with reference to the experiences and opinions of her working-class father. In this memoir, she fully explores the impact of poverty on her family.’ —Elle.com

‘Startlingly vivid … an absorbing, important work in a country that needs to know more about itself.’ —Christian Science Monitor

‘Searing, timely and blazingly eloquent, Heartland challenges readers to look beyond tired stereotypes of the rural Midwest and is a testament to the value (on many levels) of “flyover country”.’ —Shelf Awareness

‘Heartland offers an excellent example of narrative journalism, writing which relies both on well-researched, well-presented factual information and exceptional storytelling. But additionally, Smarsh employed a wholly unique device throughout the book to firmly pull readers into what is, at times, a very intimate retelling.’ —Susanna Baird, Spine Magazine

‘Throughout the book Smarsh directly addresses her unborn child and while this unique framing device might have seemed contrived were it handled by a lesser writer, Smarsh’s prose is extraordinarily beautiful, evocative and unsentimental, and framing the book in this way reveals unique insights into gender, the body and poverty … [Heartland] offers a more nuanced analysis of gender, race, and class within the power structures of American politics and culture.’ —Kara Nicholson, Readings

‘Reading Sarah Smarsh’s memoir, Heartland, I find myself agreeing with nearly every piece of social commentary she writes … She describes the way post-Reagan neoliberalism, followed by all presidents since, has destroyed a workable system of social welfare and made education and healthcare less affordable, while promoting the myth that the poor are poor only because they are either stupid or lazy.’ —Listener

ISBN: 9781925713633
ISBN-10: 1925713636
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 304
Published: 15th October 2018
Publisher: Scribe Publications
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 23.3 x 15.4  x 2.1
Weight (kg): 0.38