Publishing is impoverished when it comes to firsthand accounts of the working poor, notes Stephanie Land, author of Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive (Hachette, Jan. 22).
“There are no first-person narratives of people who are struggling,” says Land, a Barbara Ehrenreich mentee through the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and a Center for Community Change writing fellow, “and that’s exactly what we need.”
The personal essay is “most vital right now,” she adds. “If you have distance in the writer, there’s distance for the reader. The only way we’re going to build compassion for people under this huge umbrella of government assistance is by [listening] to their stories.”
“An important memoir that should be required reading for anyone who has never struggled with poverty,” according to Kirkus, Maid poignantly renders Land’s experience as a single mother living below the poverty line in Washington state.
“We lived, we survived, in careful imbalance,” she writes of early life with daughter Mia. “This was my unwitnessed existence, as I polished another’s to make theirs appear perfect.”
To make whole the insufficient funds provided by public assistance, Land took low-paying, physically demanding jobs with various housecleaning services. Her wealthy clients never knew she repaired at night to a small studio apartment whose mold kept Mia constantly congested. Nor that one unforeseen expense could send mother and daughter tumbling.
“[This book is about] breaking out of the caricature of poverty, breaking out of the stereotypes we’ve created for people in poverty,” Land says. “Even ‘poverty’ is a loaded word that comes with a lot of images in our head, when in truth...this could happen to anybody. I hope that makes readers feel a little more vulnerable and possibly empathetic.”
Megan Labrise is Editor at Large and host of the Fully Booked podcast.