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Navigating the Labyrinth of Poverty, Motherhood, and Education: An Intimate Conversation with Stephanie Land

In her poignant and thought-provoking memoir, Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger, and Higher Education, Stephanie Land unveils the intricate tapestry of her life, weaving together the challenges of single motherhood, the gnawing pangs of hunger, and the relentless pursuit of higher education. With candor and grace, Land invites readers into her world, offering a profound exploration of class inequality and the indomitable spirit that fuels the fight for survival.

A Journey Through Hardship and Hope

Stephanie Land’s journey is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. As a single mother, she faced the daunting task of providing for her daughter while battling poverty and homelessness. Undeterred by these obstacles, she embarked on a quest for a better life, enrolling in community college and working tirelessly to make ends meet. Along the way, she encountered countless setbacks, from bureaucratic hurdles to the stigma associated with poverty. Yet, she persevered, ultimately earning her bachelor’s degree and finding a stable job.

Confronting Class Inequality

Land’s memoir shines a light on the pervasive issue of class inequality in America. She exposes the systemic barriers that prevent individuals from escaping poverty, from the inadequacy of social safety nets to the discrimination faced by low-income families. Land’s experiences underscore the urgent need for comprehensive reforms that address the root causes of poverty and create opportunities for all.

The Power of Education

Despite the overwhelming challenges she faced, Land recognized education as her path to a better life. She writes, “Education was my way out. It was my chance to give my daughter a better life.” Her unwavering commitment to learning serves as an inspiration to those seeking to overcome adversity through education.

Q&A with Stephanie Land

To gain deeper insights into Land’s experiences and her powerful memoir, we engaged in a candid conversation, delving into her writing process, her inspirations, and her hopes for the future.

Q: Who do you most ardently desire to read your book?

A: I yearn for those in positions of authority over individuals toiling for wages that fall woefully short of covering basic living expenses to read my book. Legislators who flippantly demand “work requirements” when proposals to raise income limits for Medicaid or food assistance are presented, or when the continuation of child tax credit payments is discussed, should delve into my narrative. Elementary school teachers and parents actively involved in the PTA would also benefit from reading my book. It is disheartening to witness how many individuals have already formed unwavering opinions about who is and is not “deserving” of assistance. However, I am realistic enough to acknowledge that those who divide people in poverty into categories of “deserving” and “undeserving” will likely dismiss my experiences and refuse to engage with my book.

Q: How do you effectively conquer the dreaded writer’s block?

A: I encountered a formidable two-and-a-half-year bout of writer’s block while working on this book. During that time, I embarked on a journey of exploration, enrolling in online classes through Corporeal Writing with Lidia Yuknavitch. I also attempted to enlist the services of a book coach, but our collaboration was short-lived as she terminated our sessions after three meetings, candidly stating that she was “not a therapist.” It was during a moment of desperation, fueled by an urgent need for guidance, that I reached out to my friend Erin Khar, pouring out my frustrations and seeking any glimmer of inspiration. Together, we founded the “Not Writing Club,” a sanctuary where a collective of women memoirists could freely vent about the myriad obstacles that encroached upon the precious space they fought to maintain for their creative endeavors. The unwavering support and camaraderie within this group proved instrumental in enabling me to break through my creative impasse and ultimately complete my second book.

Q: What is the most valuable and the most detrimental writing advice you have ever received?

A: The most valuable piece of writing advice I have encountered is the profound observation that “the not writing is just as important as the writing.” This insight, imparted by Walter Kirn, resonates deeply with me, underscoring the significance of the incubation period, the moments of reflection and contemplation that precede the actual act of writing. Conversely, the most detrimental writing advice I have received centers around the discouragement of seeking fair compensation for one’s written work. Any advice that dissuades an individual from advocating for the remuneration they deserve for their creative efforts is not only harmful but also perpetuates an unjust system that undervalues the contributions of writers.

Q: Is there a particular aspect of your writing routine that might surprise your readers?

A: I possess a knack for organization, scheduling, and establishing routines. However, while I may meticulously craft these routines, adhering to them consistently proves to be a challenge. My writing process often involves bursts of intense activity, followed by periods of relative inactivity. For instance, I wrote the entirety of Class in a span of 31 days, a grueling pace that I have vowed to never inflict upon myself again. My creative process involves a continuous cycle of mental rumination, attempts at assimilation, further rumination, and finally, the rapid outpouring of words onto the page. This process, while messy and requiring extensive editing, is the only way I have found to reconcile my role as a single mother with the demands of writing.

Q: Who or what has had the most profound impact on your writing education?

A: Mr. Birdsall, my fourth-grade teacher, played a pivotal role in shaping my writing journey. He instilled in me a love for writing by requiring us to engage in various writing exercises throughout the year. We kept journals, crafted countless short stories, essays, and book reports, and even composed stories about each classmate on their birthdays. While I initially resented these assignments, they eventually became a source of immense joy and fulfillment. I realized that writing was my true calling. Years later, after the release of the Maid television series, someone noticed my acknowledgment of Mr. Birdsall in the book’s acknowledgments and facilitated a reconnection via Twitter. During our phone conversation, I expressed my curiosity about what had inspired him to assign such a rigorous writing curriculum to a group of ten-year-olds. He explained that he had attended a conference focused on teaching children to process their world through writing. He then added, “But for you, it really clicked. You didn’t just understand the assignment; you needed it.”

Q: If you were not a writer, what career path would you pursue?

A: I harbor a deep longing to return to my days as a barista. I firmly believe that I would establish a coffee shop that would serve as a haven for fellow writers, a place where they could gather, work, and share their creative endeavors. This coffee shop would be a sanctuary, free from the intrusive noise of blenders, where writers could find solace and inspiration amidst the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.