Book Talk: Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth By Sa
An essential read for our times: an eye-opening memoir of working-class poverty in America that will deepen our understanding of the ways in which class shapes our country.
“A deeply humane memoir that crackles with clarifying insight, Heartland is one of a growing number of important works—including Matthew Desmond’s Evicted and Amy Goldstein’s Janesville—that together merit their own section in nonfiction aisles across the country: America’s postindustrial decline...Smarsh shows how the false promise of the ‘American dream’ was used to subjugate the poor. It’s a powerful mantra.” —The New York Times Book Review
This is the story
Sarah 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 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.
During Sarah’s turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, she enjoyed the freedom of a country childhood, but observed the painful challenges of the poverty around her; untreated medical conditions for lack of insurance or consistent care, unsafe job conditions, abusive relationships, and limited resources and information that would provide for the upward mobility that is the American Dream. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves with clarity and precision but without judgement, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country.
A beautifully written memoir that combines personal narrative with powerful analysis and cultural commentary, Heartland examines the myths about people thought to be less because they earn less.
Reviews and What Readers Say
"Heartland is [Smarsh's] map of home, drawn with loving hands and tender words. This is the nation’s class divide brought into sharp relief through personal history ... Heartland is a thoughtful, big-hearted tale ... Heartland is 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."
"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
"Smart, nuanced and atmospheric ... Heartland deepens our understanding of the crushing ways in which class shapes possibility in this country. It's an unsentimental tribute to the working-class people Smarsh knows — the farmers, office clerks, trash collectors, waitresses — whose labor is often invisible or disdained."
“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—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
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Journalist Sarah Smarsh has covered socioeconomic class, politics, and public policy for The Guardian, The New York Times, The Texas Observer, Pacific Standard and many others. A native of rural Kansas, Smarsh is a frequent speaker and commentator on economic inequality and the news media. She lives in Kansas.