Sarah Smarsh has written about socioeconomic class, politics, and public policy for the Guardian, the New York Times, the Texas Observer, Pacific Standard, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and many other publications. A recent Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and a former professor of nonfiction writing, Smarsh is a frequent speaker on economic inequality and media narratives relating this topic. She lives in Kansas. Heartland is her first book.
With startling humor and honesty, Kennedy describes the frustration of never having enough money for a security deposit on an apartment—but having too much to qualify for public assistance. Without A Net is a story of hope. Michelle Kennedy survives on her wits, a little luck, and a lot of courage. And in the end, she triumphs.
When Scott Russell Sanders was four, his father held him in his arms during a thunderstorm, and he felt awe—"the tingle of a power that surges through bone and rain and everything." He says, "The search for communion with this power has run like a bright thread through all my days." A Private History of Awe is an account of this search, told as a series of awe-inspiring episodes: his early memory of watching a fire with his father; his attraction to the solemn cadences of the Bible despite his frustration with Sunday-school religion; his discovery of books and the body; his mounting opposition to the Vietnam War and all forms of violence; his decision to leave behind the university life of Oxford and Harvard and return to Indiana, where three generations of his family have put down roots. In many ways, this is the story of a generation's passage through the 1960s—from innocence to experience, from euphoria to disillusionment. But Sanders has found a language that captures the transcendence of ordinary lives while never reducing them to formula. In his hands, the pattern of American boyhood that was made classic by writers from Mark Twain to Tobias Wolff is given a powerful new charge.
"You will not read a more important book about America this year."—The Economist
"A riveting book."—The Wall Street Journal
"Essential reading."—David Brooks, New York Times
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The disintegration of this group, a process that has been slowly occurring now for more than forty years, has been reported with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually one of their grandchildren would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of success in achieving generational upward mobility. But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that J.D.'s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, never fully escaping the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. With piercing honesty, Vance shows how he himself still carries around the demons of his chaotic family history.
A deeply moving memoir, with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.