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Stephanie Land on her book 'Class'

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Stephanie Land has called poverty an invisible and isolating experience. In her first book, "Maid," we followed her journey as a poor single mother who cleans rich people's homes to make ends meet. And in her second, called "Class," she adds a new challenge - going to college to fulfill her dream of becoming a writer. Stephanie Land joins us now from Missoula, Mont. Thank you for being with us.

Your first book, "Maid," was a breakout success. It was adapted for Netflix and was on Obama's summer reading list for 2019, which is a huge deal. What inspired you to write a sequel?

STEPHANIE LAND: The part of my story that I really think is the most important, I guess, was that I got out of a bad situation and got myself to an environment and a community that was supportive and went on to graduate from college with a degree that I had originally set out to do. I had a lot of people trying to convince me to basically get a job that would put me in an administrative assistant type of position, to have that sort of job security. And I decided to go for it and to try, at least try, to be a writer.

RASCOE: You talk about this so much in the book. You know, you're a single mother. And so to make the decision to go to college to be a writer, which can be very up and down, like, what do you think it is about yourself that made you have the faith to go for this dream when you're really just, you know, making ends meet and struggling to do that?

LAND: For me, being a writer was something that I've wanted since I was 10 years old, and I knew that I needed to at least try. I knew that if I didn't do that, then I wouldn't be very happy going forward with my life.

RASCOE: Reading your story and - like, I mean, I think about all the women in my family who, whether the man was there or not, were taking care of business, like a great-aunt that had to raise 10 kids by herself. My grandmother cleaned houses. And so I'm thinking of all these women. They're living in poverty. They're also Black. And they don't get the chance to tell their stories, and they don't get the book deal or the Netflix deal. What do you think of those women who don't get to tell their stories but are living this every day?

LAND: I recognized pretty early on that people were paying attention to my story because it was a very palatable type of poor person story. I'm a white person who graduated college. I'm a quote, unquote "success" now. Like, I'm the rags-to-riches story that a lot of people like to listen to. And I had a conversation with a photographer, actually, who was a Black man, and we were talking about this. And I said, you know, they're listening to me because I'm white. They should be listening to people of color, not me. And he said, but they are listening to you. And if they listen to you, then they might listen to other people. And I try to keep this hope within me kind of that the more personal stories are shared, then perhaps more empathy will grow, and that might turn into compassion.

RASCOE: When you were writing this story about yourself or, like, going back through it, were there things that surprised you when you look back on it?

LAND: I think I was surprised at how angry I felt for myself and for the time period and what I had to go through, for how lonely I was, for how much shame I felt. I am almost 10 years out from my graduation from college, so it's been a while. And I have, you know, of course, had more success, and I'm in a much more privileged situation now. And I have a different sense of normalcy. To go back and write through these scenes where I was just struggling to get through the day, it made me mad, and I wasn't really allowed to feel mad. I wasn't really allowed to feel anything when I was in it. I didn't have time.

RASCOE: I mean, and another part of that that you delve into, which, I mean, I think is such a big part of poverty, is this idea that people feel like if you're poor, you don't deserve to have anything.

LAND: Well, it's poor people can't have nice things. And I have heard that over and over. I mean, when I first started writing about being on food stamps, I was still on food stamps, and I looked at the comments sections. And almost everything that people got upset about was that I was a poor person, and therefore I should not have a nice thing. When I wrote "Maid," I purposely left in a couple of things that I knew people would get mad about. One was this scene where I'm, like, fighting to get organic milk from a WIC check, and another is I bought myself a $200 diamond ring.

It was almost comical, like, how people would get upset about that. So in this book, I just kind of went for it and threw everything in there. Like, I'm going out. I'm behaving like a college student at some points in the book. And one lady on Goodreads is upset that I was buying my daughter ice cream so much. And I have grown to kind of enjoy doing that because it says so much more about the person who is actually upset than it does about me.

RASCOE: That's Stephanie Land. Her new book, "Class," is out this week. Thank you so much for joining us.

LAND: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Hadeel Al-Shalchi
Hadeel al-Shalchi is an editor with Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, Al-Shalchi was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press and covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya. In 2012, she joined Reuters as the Libya correspondent where she covered the country post-war and investigated the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens. Al-Shalchi also covered the front lines of Aleppo in 2012. She is fluent in Arabic.

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