Welcome to our newest blog series: Where Are They Now?
In this series, our editors interview past Literary Mama contributors to see what they’ve accomplished since publishing in LM and talk about their writing journeys.
You’d have to be hiding under a rock to be unfamiliar with author and activist Stephanie Land. She’s the bestselling author of Maid, which debuted at #3 on the New York Times bestseller list, and was named a New York Times Notable book in 2019. It was also chosen by both Barack Obama and Reese Witherspoon as a “must-read” and developed into an award-winning television series by Netflix in 2021.
What many people don’t realize is that Land published with Literary Mama early in her writing career. In 2015, we published the gorgeous, heart-breaking essay about the emotional abuse Land experienced from her first child’s father titled “Your Every Move.” She has also publicly credited our Calls for Submissions posts with helping her learn about the opportunity to write for Vox. That subsequent personal essay went viral and led to interest in the book that became Maid.
We couldn’t resist reaching out to see what she was up to now. It turns out she is actively at work on her next book, Class, a book she hopes will expose “the outrageous cost, predatory practices, and discriminatory policies faced by Americans” as they seek higher education hoping it might lead to security and prosperity. She caught up with publisher Cindy DiTiberio over email in the midst of a new tour prompted by the successful launch of the television series (and the lessening of the pandemic).
Cindy DiTiberio: When you published your piece, “Your Every Move,” on Literary Mama in February of 2015, where were you on your publishing journey?
Stephanie Land: That essay was my second “big” national publication. I started freelancing immediately after I graduated from college in May of 2014, had my second daughter a month later, and kept trying to figure out how to turn it into a professional career that would pay the bills.
CD: How did the publication of this piece spur your career forward or give you the confidence to continue writing about these deeply personal moments in your life?
SL: Honestly, that piece has always been one I hold close to my chest. I think every writer has a second-person piece buried somewhere in their computer, and it was thrilling to find a home for it. It was also the first piece I published about the emotional abuse I experienced, and while that was terrifying, it was also liberating. I hoped for it to reach those who needed their experiences validated.
CD: How did you carve out time to write during the time that you were striving to provide enough money for a roof over your head as a single mother?
SL: Well, I lost a lot of sleep. I am the type of writer who will think through and write an entire piece (or book) in their head, then push it out super-fast. Throughout the day, I kept a notebook close by for ideas, first paragraphs, and ledes. Then, after my oldest was asleep for the night (thank goodness) and my infant was in that stage of nursing and sleeping on a pillow in my lap, I sat on my living room floor with my laptop on a footstool and wrote out whatever essay came to me that day. Most nights I worked from 9pm to 2am.
CD: Did your dream of one day holding your book in your hand propel you forward? How did you hold it close, so that it did not slip away?
SL: Holding a book I had written in my hands had been a dream since I was ten years old. It was not a matter of “if;” it was “when.” I just had no idea how to get there. When I was rejected from the MFA program I applied to at the University of Montana, I figured I would have to build up my bio with bylines and taught myself how and where to pitch while building that pesky platform as much as I could. I honestly followed the advice that Neil Gaiman gives in a commencement address he gave years ago. It was my business plan.
CD: I hear you now have “a room of one’s own,” aka “a she-shed” or writing hole. What does it feel like to have a space fully for you, dedicated to your creativity?
SL: Oh, it’s amazing. When my family of five moved into this house almost two years ago, I grieved the loss of my own space. I had no space to think, especially when our three kids were doing remote school. After a year and a half of this I put my foot down and said I needed a writing shack. It’s wonderful to have a space that’s off limits, where I can go to work, and, after months of doing interviews and virtual speaking gigs in my bedroom or living room, forcing my family to hide downstairs, it was incredible to have a space set up for that.
CD: What does your writing practice look like today?
SL: I don’t have one. Ha. I’m working on getting there. I experienced four pregnancy losses in a year while trying to adjust to pandemic life. My husband also learned he was autistic, and we found out he needed surgery to fuse his spine. It was…. a LOT. My creative space was full of overwhelming grief. I feel like I am just now getting to a space where I can think about structure and arcs and sentences and story and all the things I need in order to write my next book. Currently, I’m on a speaking gig tour and have 20+ gigs in three months, so I end up reading on planes and writing in hotel rooms.
CD: Given the lack of child-care during the pandemic, and how you have identified that as one of your biggest hurdles in escaping poverty (let alone the hurdles it brings to the creative life), what would you say to mothers who also find themselves without avenues to pursue paid work outside of their household?
SL: I couldn’t afford childcare as a freelance writer until my youngest was 14 months old. And even then, it was only a couple of hours at a time. I can only offer head nods and validation because I know it’s incredibly hard.
CD: Single motherhood is rarely portrayed on the screen or on the page. What do you wish more people knew about the experience of motherhood when it doesn’t fit the traditional, nuclear family format?
SL: That single parents are not neglectful. They work hard. They fiercely love their kids. That just because they can’t volunteer in the classroom or make PTA meetings doesn’t mean they’re not interested in what happens at school. But also, they are a family. Single moms don’t need to be rescued or have a man come in to make them feel complete. I loved our life when it was just the three of us, and all the magic it brought.
CD: How can we make more room for all expressions of motherhood?
SL: Publish marginalized writers. Publish pieces written by BIPOC writers. Make a point to seek those writers out and pay them well.