Institute of Politics

Sarah Smarsh

Author & Journalist

Sarah, author of "Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country in the World," will explore socioeconomic class in the United States as it relates to identity, place, and the future of democracy.


Sarah Smarsh is a journalist who has covered socioeconomic class, public policy, and rural issues for The New York Times, National Geographic, Harper’s, The New Yorker, Columbia Journalism Review, and many other publications. Smarsh’s first book, "Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth" (Scribner, 2018), was a New York Times bestseller, a finalist for the National Book Award, winner of the Chicago Tribune Literary Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read selection, and a favorite-books-of-the-year pick by President Barack Obama.

Born to a teenage mother and a wheat farmer in rural Kansas, Smarsh was a first-generation college student who lived much of her life in poverty. She has spoken on economic inequality and rurality at venues such as the U.S. Senate Democrats Rural Summit, the Clinton School of Public Service, the Aspen Ideas Festival, Sydney Opera House, and Edinburgh International Book Festival. She is a frequent political commentator, appearing on shows such as PBS NewsHour, NPR’s 1A, and CNN Newsroom.

Smarsh was a Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in 2018 and is a former associate professor of English. She holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University and degrees in journalism and English from the University of Kansas. Her latest book, "She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs" (Scribner, 2020), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She lives in Kansas.

Seminars

"The Class Conundrum: Socioeconomic Inequality in a Purported Meritocracy"

Long ignored and even denied in the United States, socioeconomic class has become a critical issue in our political and cultural spheres. Attempting to explain related tears in the social fabric, politicians and commentators have seized on simplistic, misleading binary frameworks such as “rural-urban divide,” “red-versus-blue,” or “educated and uneducated.” The reality is far more complicated - and those categories far less homogenous - than headlines suggest. Meanwhile, class intersects with race, gender, region and other identities in ways that prevailing narratives fail to capture, in part due to societal discomfort with economic inequality as a worthy concern in its own right. We will seek a truer articulation of class while examining its treatment by the left and right - and its potential role in this perilous moment for democracy.

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