Book Club: Heartland, by Sarah Smarsh

The farm was thirty miles west of Wichita on the silty loam of souther Kansas that never asked for more than prairie grass. The area has three nicknames: “the breadbasket of the world” for its government-subsidized grain production, “the air capital of the world” for its airplane-manufacturing industry, and “tornado alley” for its natural offerings. Warm. moist air from the Gulf to the south clashes with dry, cool air from the Rocky Mountains to the west. In the springtime, the thunderstorms are so big you can smell them before you see or hear them.

– Chapter, 1, “A Penny in a Purse”, Heartland, p.5


Our final memoir for Fall Book Club is Heartand: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke  in the Richest Country on Earth  by Sarah Smarsh (Simon and Schuster, 2018).  A New York Times Best Seller and Finalist for the National Book Award, as well as for the Kirkus Prize, this memoir tells of Sarah’s turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, with a focus on the lives of her family members, white blue-collar residents of the Midwest and South.

“Sarah Smarsh was born a fifth generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side, and the product of generations of teen mothers on her maternal side. Through her experiences growing up on a farm thirty miles west of Wichita, we are given a unique and essential look into the lives of poor and working class Americans living in the heartland.”

Sarah  “enjoyed the freedom of a country childhood, but observed the painful challenges of the poverty around her; untreated medical conditions for lack of insurance or consistent care, unsafe job conditions, abusive relationships, and limited resources and information that would provide for the upward mobility that is the American Dream. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves with clarity and precision but without judgement, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country.” – publisher’s description

Sarah Smarsh earned a BA from the University of Kansas and an MFA from Columbia University. She has been a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, and she has written the Columbia Journalism ReviewThe New York TimesThe Guardian, and The New Yorker. In 2019, Smarsh launched the The Homecomers. a podcast in which she interviews people from rural and working class communities to raise awareness and greater insight into those who “remain committed to their complex, embattled homes.”

Please come ready to discuss chapters Chapters 1-4 (pp. 1-167). Bring your own lunch, and/or enjoy some light refreshments that will be provided.

Fall Book Club is co-sponsored by the Graduate Writing Center. It meets every other week throughout the semester, with a program for three books, two sessions per book. It is open to all students and staff, and the first 15 people to rsvp will receive a free copy.

Where: 305 Russell



Nov 14 2023


12:00 pm - 1:00 pm


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Formats (virtual, in person, hybrid)



Teachers College - Russell Hall
525 W 120th St #91, New York, NY 10027


Teachers College, Columbia University
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