Stephanie Land’s bestselling debut memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive recounts her harrowing saga as a single mom navigating the poverty trap. Her unflinching and inspiring testimony exposes the physical, economic, and social brutality that domestic workers face, all while radiating a parent’s hope and resilience.
“Vivid and engaging, [Maid] illuminates the struggles of poverty…the unrelenting frustration of having no safety net, the ways in which our society is systematically designed to keep impoverished people mired in poverty…” –Roxane Gay
At age 28, when Land’s dream of attending college and becoming a writer is deferred she and her seven-month old daughter have to move into a homeless shelter, fleeing a violent home and lacking any form of reliable safety net. She begins the bureaucratic nightmare of applying for food stamps and subsidized housing, and starts cleaning houses for $9/hour. Mired in patronizing government processes and paltry wages, Land illustrates the trauma of grasping for stability from a rigged system, and demonstrates how hard work doesn’t always pay off. In a constant state of scarcity, a single unexpected cost–as simple as a car repair–jeopardizes Land’s carefully calculated budget, and shows the impossible slipperiness of escaping poverty.
“Land nails the sheer terror that comes with being poor, the exhausting vigilance of knowing that any misstep or twist of fate will push you deeper into the hole.” –The Boston Globe
Land’s memoir offers a unique and essential perspective from the frontlines of struggle, but the deeply personal, intimate details of her story paint a larger picture. The physical pain of her own poverty–like the mold in her apartment, and the “constant burn” and “shooting pain” from cleaning houses–clarifies systemic class barriers and inequalities, dispelling the myth that poor people are responsible for their own predicament, and just need to try harder. Instead, Land reveals the real culprits of situation: domestic violence, untenable minimum wages, high housing costs, and government assistance programs that fail the people they ostensibly serve.
As a maid, Land labors invisibly, rarely encountering the owners of the houses she cleans. But while scrubbing toilets and mopping floors, she gazes microscopically upon her wealthy clients. Their testosterone cream and secret packs of cigarettes unmask a different kind of pain and discomfort than her own, and reveals a rare window into the upper classes. Land detailed these observations in her viral article written for Vox, “I spent 2 years cleaning houses. What I saw makes me never want to be rich.” The essay later expanded to become Maid. The book will be adapted as a series for Netflix by John Wells Productions (ER, The West Wing, Shameless) and Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap Entertainment.
“A moving, intimate, essential account of life in poverty.” —Entertainment Weekly
After years of barely scraping by, Land graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Montana in 2014, and started a career as a freelance writer. She writes about economic and social justice, domestic abuse, chronic illness, and motherhood, and has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Vox, Salon, among many other outlets. She has worked with Barbara Ehrenreich at the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and is a writing fellow at the Center for Community Change.