Stephanie Land chronicled her struggles as a single mother scrubbing toilets for minimal pay in “Maid,” her bestselling memoir from 2019 that was adapted into successful Netflix series starring Margaret Qualley.
At the tip of that book, Land took her 3-year-old daughter, Emilia, and moved away from an abusive partner in Washington State to Missoula, Mont., in pursuit of a faculty degree and a greater life.
She was in for an actual education.
Land’s latest, “Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger, and Higher Education” (Atria) focuses on her senior 12 months on the University of Montana. She was is in her mid-30s, on food stamps and borrowing massive amounts of cash to get a B.A. in English.
“A level had been waved in front of my face like a certificate out of poverty,” she writes. “The undeniable fact that the loans sunk me further into poverty wasn’t lost on me.”
The schoolwork itself was easy. It was the opposite stuff that made college so onerous. Her members of the family berated her for wasting money on such an extravagant luxury — so did the lawyers and judges who determined how much child support her ex should pay.
The college offered free daycare, but only during daytime classes, and never for the hours Land would spend on homework. So she got up at dawn to wash the gym at Emilia’s preschool in exchange for tuition.
She needed to consistently fight for loans and support. She went hungry as a substitute of putting up with the shame of paying for food in the scholar lounge together with her EBT card. She doubted she even deserved a school education.
Most of her professors were kind. But one — the pinnacle of the creative writing program — was horrified when Land got pregnant again.
“Babies don’t belong in grad school,” she said when Land confided she desired to get a masters degree. (She also said she dressed badly and had too many tattoos.)
Land’s English degree didn’t provide a golden ticket out of poverty. It saddled her with $50,000 in debt —but it surely gave her pride and dignity.
She brought her daughter to her graduation.
“I wanted Emilia to see me walk across the stage,” she writes. “I wanted her to know that I’d done this so she knew that she could, too.”