Heartland by Sarah Smarsh

Staff Pick

Sarah Smarsh’s passionate Heartland (Scribner, $26) uses various narrative strategies to call attention to the overlooked “distance between how poverty is handled in public policy and what it looks like in human lives.”  Specifically focusing on rural white working class poverty, Smarsh notes both how hard it is to talk about class in America and how little what sparse language there is has to do with her family of Kansas wheat farmers, carpenters, and waitresses; her relatives neither fit the definitions of “redneck,” “roughneck” or “hillbilly,” nor conformed to the stereotypes for “trailer trash.”  Far from being lazy, Smarsh’s people work incessantly, often holding down three or more jobs at once. The product of generations who survived the harsh prairies by knowing that “you either work together or starve alone,” Smarsh learned early that “what poverty requires” are “creative, industrious people.” So why did these hard-workers have so much trouble paying the bills?  Looking around at her mother’s and aunts’ teenage pregnancies, multiple marriages, and frustrated ambitions, she decided not to bring a child into poverty, but to break the cycle that had made her own childhood so unsettled.

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth By Sarah Smarsh Cover Image
ISBN: 9781501133091
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Scribner - September 18th, 2018