I Didn’t Realize that I Could Be a Voice for a Population of People

Stephanie Land found her first audience on WordPress.com and worked her way out of poverty and into a book deal, word by word.

Stephanie Land’s writing career began in fourth grade, after a teacher encouraged her to begin journaling. Decades and shelves full of journals later, Stephanie started her WordPress.com blog when a pinched nerve from Scoliosis made it painful for her to write longhand.


“A friend of mine suggested doing an online journal,” says Stephanie. “There was a certain element in formatting a blog post, instead of just puking out this journal entry, that gave it some format and structure. Also, I had an audience for the first time and that was really a defining moment for me.”

Her blog became an outlet to chronicle day-to-day survival living in poverty as a single mother trying to establish a career as a writer. “I had just been rejected from my college’s MFA program with an essay that went on to get a book deal. And so I figured okay, so I’m going to try and grow my own platform,” says Stephanie. “I worked pretty much full time with a nursing baby in my lap, just doing whatever I possibly could to get paid or get paid in exposure to get my writing out there.”

The more that people share these very vulnerable moments and scary things that they normally don’t admit, the more others will come out and start sharing theirs.
Stephanie Land

She pitched the essay — a piece she wrote out of her experiences working as a cleaning lady for the wealthy — to Vox. Her story, “I spent 2 years cleaning houses. What I saw makes me never want to be rich,” went viral and led to a book deal. “A lot of domestic workers and sons and daughters of domestic workers reached out to me to say thank you for telling our story,” says Stephanie. “I didn’t realize that I could be a voice for a population of people.” Stephanie’s memoir, MAID: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, will be published in January 2019 by Hachette Books. (The foreword is by none other than Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the acclaimed memoir of the working poor, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America.)

The power in Stephanie’s writing is her willingness to be vulnerable — to share the struggle and constant sacrifice inherent in choosing to get an education while raising her family alone. In some ways, the “easier” route would have been to work a full-time job, she notes on her blog after publishing her first piece, “‘Please Don’t Feed the Animals’ — The Disturbing Rise of Anti-Poor Web Cruelty,” for the Economic Hardship Project. “I can honestly say I’ve never felt encouraged to get a college education as a single mother. I especially didn’t feel encouraged to pursue writing. I felt encouraged to work. I felt like I needed to work as many hours as I possibly could, no matter how low the pay, to get ahead. This is an idiotic system,” she says.

Remaining in the service industry would have come with a heavy cost, despite the regular paycheck. “Without the degree, though, I don’t think I would have stopped cleaning houses. I don’t think I would have thought myself on the same level as the people whose houses I cleaned. I don’t think I would have set my sights on top of the mountain, instead of being okay with remaining in the comfort of the trailhead at a job that required little skill or brain-power. Not thinking, not going to school, only working, was easy.”

All I’ve wanted from the beginning is just to put a human face on poverty that is not the one that we think of, like the welfare queen sitting on the couch eating bonbons, raking in all this government cash they assume we’re getting.
Stephanie Land

For Stephanie, getting paid to write and publishing a book are only a part of the reward. She finds satisfaction in knowing her work is helping to break down stereotypes about people who live in poverty and encourage them to share their stories. “The more that people share these very vulnerable moments and scary things that they normally don’t admit, the more others will come out and start sharing theirs. And then you’ll see this entire invisible population that has never had the agency or the ability or the strength to speak up. All I’ve wanted from the beginning is just to put a human face on poverty that is not the one that we think of, like the welfare queen sitting on the couch eating bonbons, raking in all this government cash they assume we’re getting,” says Stephanie. “The more we humanize people in those situations, the more empathy and compassion we might have.”

Her work is having a positive effect. “I had someone comment on Goodreads — a teacher — and she said, ‘I look at my students differently, the ones who I know are living in poverty and I don’t get upset with their parents for never showing up to volunteer or what I am assuming is neglecting their kids. Now I can see that they are working extremely hard and they just don’t have another choice.'”


Read more from Stephanie and learn about her journey to becoming an author on her WordPress website.

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