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Heartland by Sarah Smarsh Read Online (FREE)

Heartland by Sarah Smarsh

Read Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh full book online for free here.



I researched and wrote this book over the course of fifteen years. My initial task was to construct a family timeline of dates, addresses, and events, which I first undertook as a student at the University of Kansas with two small research grants in 2002. Throughout the drafting process that followed, I combed through public records, old newspapers, letters, photographs, and other archives to piece together a family history from the ill-documented chaos that poverty begets.


For the family perspectives and anecdotes recounted here, especially those I was not alive or present to witness, over the years I conducted uncounted hours of interviews with many of the people involved. Much of the story was drawn from their memories and perceptions. Events I witnessed myself were written mostly from my own memory, sometimes with sought input from family members.


Points on United States and world history, politics, public policy, and other matters beyond the private experience are based on news stories, studies, and books I deemed accurate and reliable in my capacity as a journalist. They are conveyed with my perspective.


In a small number of instances, I have changed or omitted the names of living people.






I heard a voice unlike the ones in my house or on the news that told me my place in the world.


It was your voice: a quiet and constant presence, felt more often than heard. You were like those stars that, for some reason, a person can see only by looking to the side of them. I was just a kid, but I knew the other voices were wrong and yours was right because my body felt like a calm hollow when you echoed in it.


I didn’t try to figure out what you were. I just knew you. Often, what grown-ups say is mysterious, children readily understand. Eventually, in my mind, you took the form of a baby that I either would or wouldn’t have.


You were far more than what a baby is. My connection to you was the deepest kind of knowing—hard to explain because it swooshed around in my mind and took different shapes and meanings over the years. But there was a moment, before I was even old enough to have kids, when I was fretting about the sort of decision that in another household might have gotten help from parents. Those moments usually sent me praying to some God outside myself. Instead, I thought, What would I tell my daughter to do?


I’ve never been pregnant, but I became a mother very young—to myself, to my little brother, to my own young mother, even—and that required digging very deep. So deep down to the quick of being that I found not just my own power but your unborn spirit, which maybe are one and the same. I can’t tell you how that happened. But I can tell you why, for me, it had to.