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

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Longlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction

An eye-opening memoir of working-class poverty in the American Midwest.

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 a few of 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 have an effect on 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 statement, Heartland is an uncompromising look at class, identity, and the particular perils of having less in a country known for its excess.

“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 author, is Authentic with a capital A…This is just what the world needs to hear” (George Hodgman, writer of Bettyville).
An Amazon Best Book of September 2018: In this furious, regretful, and loving memoir, Sarah Smarsh examines the life of America’s rural poor through the microcosm of her extended family. Growing up working-class white on the Kansas plains, Smarsh enjoyed the freedom of a country childhood, but witnessed the hideous legacy of poverty in her relatives’ untreated illnesses, unsafe job conditions, abusive marriages, and addictions to everything from cigarettes to opioids.

Smarsh, now a author and professor, created a stable professional life for herself the usage of the same work ethic she saw in her parents, with talents they themselves might have developed had they been able to continue in school. What made the biggest difference: federal grants for first-generation students, and her determination to avoid early pregnancy. Her life’s work, she felt, “was to be heard,” somewhat than to turn out to be a mother, though the daughter she might have had feels so real that Heartland takes the form of an anguished letter to her.

For Smarsh, one of the vital cruelest blows the poor suffer is society’s assessment that they in some way deserve less than others. “People of all backgrounds experience a sense of poorness—not enough of this or that thing that money can’t buy. But financial poverty is the one shamed by society, culture, unchecked capitalism, public policy, our very way of speaking.” Heartland will make you check your privilege before you refer to anyone as “white trash” or “red neck,” and if you’re standing at a polling station, you might hear Smarsh’s voice in your ear. Her portrayal of what it feels like to be poor in America will persuade you that it’s not a fate any child should be born into. —Sarah Harrison Smith, Amazon Book Review


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