Sarah Smarsh's Heartland is a poetic, unusual memoir; her story, and the story of her family and her town, provide an illuminating lens through which to view some of the challenges of making a living in rural America, and the near-impossibility of moving up into the middle class for those born into poverty. Heartland is a powerful, lyrical book. Recommended By Moses M., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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).
"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
"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
"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
"In her sharply-observed, big-hearted memoir, Heartland, Smarsh chronicles the human toll of inequality, her own childhood a case study...what this book offers is a tour through the messy and changed reality of the American dream, and a love letter to the unruly but still beautiful place she called home." Boston Globe
"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....With deft primers on the Homestead Act, the farming crisis of the ‘80s, and Reaganomics, Smarsh shows how the false promise of the 'American dream' was used to subjugate the poor. It’s a powerful mantra." New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Sarah Smarsh has covered socioeconomic class, politics, and public policy for The Guardian, VQR, NewYorker.com, Harpers.org, 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.