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Stephanie Land worked as a cleaner on the tightrope of poverty and homelessness for years in pursuit of the American Dream. Then she wrote the memoir “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive”.
The bestselling book, which has caught the attention of esteemed leaders like former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris, shines a light on the reality of people who live from low-paying service work – a population in America that Land describes as “invisible”.
Released in 2019, Land’s memoir has since been adapted into the critically acclaimed and unwavering Netflix miniseries “Maid,” starring actress Margaret Qualley. Despite the title of the book and the series, each turned out to be much more than a female protagonist tasked with cleaning out the homes of the wealthy.
“I wanted the book to be more about domestic violence and, kind of being away from family, and then going to college,” Land said in an exclusive interview with TODAY.
living in poverty
The autobiography chronicles Land in her 20s and 30s as a single mother struggling financially, a survivor of domestic violence, and a nomad, taking on odd jobs such as cleaning bathrooms at friends’ homes and working in landscaping. landscaped. She explained that she had done everything to provide for her child, who now goes by his middle name “Story” and uses the pronouns them/them.
While documenting her time as a housekeeper, Land wrote about the various idiosyncrasies of the houses she cleaned. She named most of the houses after their anomalies – titles like “Porn House”, “Sad House”, “Farm House” and “Cigarette Lady’s House”.
She said that over the years, naming houses for their obscurities became her only creative outlet.
Land explained that she worked as a maid to put dinner on the table and to provide some sort of structure for her child who went to daycare during the hours she cleaned.
“I think a big part of my determination was to make their lives as good as possible,” she said. “Kids kind of keep you structured because they really need structure.”
Land said that after a series of domestic violence incidents initiated by Story’s father, Jamie, she took Story and moved into a homeless shelter with only $100 in her pocket.
“Even though it was temporary, I had done my best to make the cabin a home for my daughter,” Land wrote in her memoir. “I had placed a yellow sheet over the loveseat to not only warm up the white walls and looming gray floors, but to provide something bright and cheerful during a dark time.”
No matter how hard Land tried to appear for her child, she noted in her memoir that she didn’t always feel secure in her usual optimism. Sometimes she even pretended that her life was different.
“If I focused on portraying the family I wanted to be, I could pretend the bad parts weren’t real; as if this life were a temporary state of being, not a new existence,” Land wrote.
She said she lived in a constant state of fear that one day she would be “forced to hand over” her child to a man she knew was “dangerous”.
Jamie’s frequent outbursts quickly turned into emotionally violent threats. And even if the abuse she suffered was a reality, Land revealed to TODAY that she would often find herself thinking no one would believe her pain if she was missing marks and bruises.
“I was going to the post office in town, and people would stop me and say, ‘I can’t believe you’re taking that kid away from their dad, like, how horrible can you be? “, she recalled. “Even in the justice system, I mean, I was told that a reasonable person would not feel threatened by his actions.
When Jamie’s threats turned into physical beatings, Land said she took careful note of his actions so she could tell the court.
“When he finally hit the door window, it felt like I finally had physical evidence and something I could show someone,” she said. “It was like a certificate that I wasn’t crazy, because before that he convinced even my family that I was just desperate for him to love me, and did everything I could, including having a whole human being to stay with him in a way.
While fighting for custody of Story, she also struggled with her own will to survive and even remembered losing part of herself during the fight.
“If I had turned the camera, I would not have recognized myself. The few photos of me almost showed a different person, possibly the skinniest I had been in my entire life,” Land wrote in her memoir.
“In the mirror was this woman – overworked but with no money to show for it.”
Land was on seven forms of government assistance, and she needed each one to help her get through the next day.
And it would be years before Land really recognized what she had been through.
With the help of a therapist, Land said she was able to “identify that this was actual abuse, that some of her actions were actually rape and, and I had this kind of hallucination a few months after realizing what I had really been through and how much trauma it had caused.
“I don’t think I really accepted that it was some kind of abuse until we moved to Montana,” Land said.
Trade toilets for transcripts
In 2008, Land left Washington and moved to Montana with Story to attend college. She enrolled in the creative writing program, following her passion of becoming a writer.
“I knew I’d be miserable if I didn’t at least try to be a writer, because I know I’ve been a writer since I was, you know, 10 years old,” she said.
After graduating in 2014, Land became a fellow at the Center for Community Change in Washington D.C. Before landing a publishing deal for her memoir in 2016, Land wrote for various websites highlighting her life as a poor single mother.
When her first essay went viral, Land was certain she had misunderstood.
“I got paid $500 for this trial, and I thought I hit the jackpot,” she told TODAY. “I thought it was a mistake.”
Soon after, she was approached for a book deal and was able to quit her other jobs.
The humble author – who at one point didn’t have enough money to afford a burger – successfully pursued his dream of becoming a writer. When her memoir debuted, it was number three on the New York Times non-fiction charts. When the miniseries premiered in October 2021, she resubmitted her memoir to the NYT Nonfiction List, where she lived for nine weeks.
The three-time Golden Globe-nominated series captivated audiences of over 67 million in its first four weeks and is set to become Netflix’s most-watched limited series.
Despite the wide acclaim and recognition, Land said it was not so easy to relive what she considers the most difficult time of her life, even calling some of the moments she watched “traumatic. “.
“It was really tough, I think, because they achieved so much. It was so similar to what I went through,” she told TODAY.
Land also revealed that watching the show with Story was particularly difficult for her.
“At one point they turned to me and said, ‘Was that really like that with my dad?'” Land explained. “And I had to say, yeah, that’s pretty close to what it was.”
Although after a few episodes, she explained that she was able to appreciate the story for “her own creation” and called the series “beautiful” and “brilliant”.
When the wealth came, Land said she didn’t trade her rags so quickly.
“I was so scared that I was going to screw it up somehow. And that’s, I think, you know, when you go from food stamps to being able to buy a house and a new car in a very short time, like nothing really seemed to last because it happened so fast,” she said. “And so I don’t know if I’ll ever stop hustling.”
And she had been hustling since the day she put pen to paper.
Land added that she recognized her privilege as a white person in America and understood what would sell.
“‘I’ve known since my book started getting a lot of attention, like a year before it was published, that people clung to my story because it was a story told by a white person,” he said. she declared. “And a story of privilege, it’s a success story. It’s a rags-to-riches story, it’s all those things that society in general really likes to listen to.”
She explained that it was her motivation to “stand up, talk about it and plead”.
“I always thought if they listened to me, maybe they would listen to other people,” she said.
What Land is doing now
Before securing his book deal, Land saw America’s division firsthand and despite his triumphs, the activist did not lose sight of his past.
The author and activist has garnered nearly 140,000 followers on her social media accounts and uses her voice to “expose the reality of what it’s like to pursue the myth of the American Dream while being held at the poverty line. “.
Since the book’s release, Land has traveled the United States, expressing her struggles and successes. She plans to continue to make her voice heard, “speaking on behalf of the invisible people who are struggling to survive.”
In addition to the memoirs and the limited series, Land has a slew of published essays centered on social justice, single parenthood, domestic violence and more. She also co-founded a freelance writing course to share the breadth of her knowledge with budding writers.
Land conquered her goal of lifting her and Story out of poverty. She now has another child – a daughter named Coraline – and a husband, as well as two stepchildren. She also has a stable food supply, a roof over her head, and even a “shed” to write.
But his journey is far from over. This year, Land plans to continue traveling the country exposing the reality of what it’s like to be a low-paid service worker in America.
“Domestic work in the service sector is the backbone of our society and what makes all other work possible,” she told TODAY. “So we’re asking all these people to support us, and we’re not supporting them.”
Land is currently working on writing her second book, “Class,” in which she plans to address the inaccessible nature of higher education for low-income populations.