Land, a single mom who cleaned houses and lived in poverty, talks about how her life has changed with the writing of Maid (Hachette, Jan.).
How did the book come to be?
It started with an article on Vox that went viral in 2015. My agent, Jeff Kleinman, read it and sent me an email asking if I had a book in the works. I said, “Of course!” and he said, “Great, send me a few chapters and an outline.” I feverishly worked to give him what I thought a book could be about. Over the next 11 months we worked on a proposal together, and I had a book deal within a year.
Were you in school at the time?
I graduated from college in 2014 and started freelance writing. I’d write anything that paid, including filling local events calendars for hourly rates. The Vox article was the first big paid article that I had ever placed.
What did you learn about people from being a maid?
It was interesting to be in a position where I got to know people through cleaning their houses, but I became disenchanted. I was living in this studio apartment for $500, and I thought that once I had a house like theirs I’d be happy. But the owners were often sick or not ever home, and there were a lot of takeout containers. It seemed like they worked extremely hard to keep up a house that they paid me to clean, and many of the rooms only required dusting because they were never used.
Do you hope that this book will get a message out about poverty?
Absolutely. Legislators are trying to add on more requirements and paperwork for those who need food or medical care. This resounding cry of “welfare to work” enrages me because something like 75% or 80% of people who are on government assistance are already working.
You made it to a better life. Is this rare?
I think so. I cringe when people call me a “success story,” because that perpetuates the idea that it’s a successful system. I think there’s a huge gap between no longer qualifying for benefits and being able to afford a life without benefits. When I went off government assistance—six months before I got the book deal—there were some months that were lean, I mean literally lean, like I lost a lot of weight. I could barely afford food.
How much has your life changed since you wrote the book?
The book deal was completely life changing. I’ve even noticed that I stand up straighter. I have scoliosis, and I’d shrunk an inch—but I actually regained a half-inch just because my posture is so much better and because I can afford to exercise now. I’m also learning how to be a professional. All of that is so confidence building. I have a place in the world now—I’m a contributing member of society instead of someone who feels like a leech on the system.