May 25, 2019  

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National Book Award Finalist Smarsh to Discuss Economic Inequality in America at Feb. 12 University Forum

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Sarah Smarsh

Myths and widely-held beliefs about class and wealth in America will be examined Tuesday, Feb. 12 by acclaimed writer and social issues commentator Sarah Smarsh when she visits The University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg campus as first speaker for its spring 2019 University Forum series.

Smarsh, author of Heartland: Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, will give her presentation at Bennett Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free and members of the University and local communities are invited. The forum will also be available via IVN at USM's Gulf Park campus in Hardy Hall, Room 316.

Heartland was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award for Nonfiction and is Smarsh’s memoir of growing up poor in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s. It explores gender and class divides in our country, while seeking to unravel myths about rural America that hold that those who live in the flyover states are backwards and ignorant.

Barbara Ehrenreich, a previous University Forum speaker at the University Forum, wrote that it “is so much more than even the best sociology. It is poetry — of the wind and snow, the two-lane roads running through the wheat, the summer nights when work-drained families drink and dance under the prairie sky.”

Smarsh writes and gives talks about class, politics, and public policy, has been published in The New Yorker, Harper's online, The Guardian, VQR, The New York Times, The Independent, Longreads, and Guernica, writing on class, and is often sought by media for commentary on economic inequality. She is also a recent Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and a former professor of nonfiction writing.

“Sarah Smarsh’s experiences have shaped her politics and left her with a deep respect for the men and women who raised her,” said Dr. Andrew Haley, director of University Forum and associate professor of history at USM. “It’s easy to see why she is a National Book Award finalist; her work celebrates hardscrabble heroes without ignoring the scars left by poverty.”

University Forum is presented by the Southern Miss Honors College. For more information about the 2019 University Forum series, visit