University of Montana Alumnus Reflects on Netflix’s Global Success “Maid”
22 October 2021
MISSOULA – “Maid,” written by University of Montana alumnus Stephanie Land, has become a worldwide hit. Before Netflix created a memoir-inspired series, it began as an essay for a UM writing course called “Confessions of the Housekeeper” by Land, an English student at the time. Her essay went viral, spurred a book deal, and Land continued to write “Maid” on a MacBook at a kitchen table in Missoula. The memoir would eventually become a New York Times bestseller, with a thank you page thanking UM professors, among others, for their mentorship and support.
Land graduated in 2014 from UM with a bachelor’s degree in English. The rest of the story is currently watched by millions of people.
Netflix estimates that over 67 million people have watched “Maid”. In fact, the hit series is well on its way to becoming the most watched limited script series the platform has ever produced. The series was inspired by the memoir of Land “Maid,” currently No. 4 on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list and endorsed by former US President Barack Obama as “The Story of the America”. The work is being hailed across the country as opening a critical conversation about poverty, grain and America’s problematic support to those who work and support the rest of the country while operating in the shadows.
Starring Margaret Qualley (born in Missoula) and Andie MacDowell, the series reveals Land’s background as a single mother who finds work as a housekeeper to earn a living while battling poverty, homelessness and domestic violence. .
The show references UM as the Montana College of Fine Arts and heavily features Missoula. Perhaps more than advertising Missoula as a literary Promised Land, Land’s ability to identify and develop a writing voice at UM, and then make her way into the world of writing (without lots of help), is a trait that is uniquely Montanan – and is an authentic hit that the entire Grizzly community celebrates. As the show continues its global rocket ride, Land has set aside time for his alma mater and shared his thoughts on accessing higher education, the ways institutions support students (and how they can do it). better), having a session on campus, why writing long articles helps in the long run, and what it means to take a risk and declare a major that you like.
UM News: You came to UM after a few trying years. Getting to Missoula and UM was a highlight in “Maid”. What about the arrival on campus that you found so moving?
Earth: I wanted to study at UM for six years when I arrived here in December 2011. But I enrolled in the sociology program, because I thought my life couldn’t afford an art degree. I guess I also thought that would be an “acceptable” reason to move into the court system, as I had to ask permission to move my daughter 500 miles from their father. After my first semester, however, I knew I wouldn’t be happy here unless I made the leap to being a writer, which I originally wanted to do. Before the summer school started I changed my degree to English and was planning to get an MFA in non-fiction.
UM News: In an age where American discussions of fairness, upward mobility and economic disparities are at the forefront, why do you think “Maid” has sparked a larger conversation about essential work in our country?
Earth: What we have called “essential” since the start of the pandemic for our working poor, has become, what I believe, is “allowed”. We expect people to clean up after us, but we don’t want to pay those with living wages or benefits. The conversation around who takes better jobs or stays unemployed has been horrific, especially by our own governor. He ended the unemployment increases and offered a return to work bonus of $ 1,200. What does it pay for a month of daycare for two children, if that?
We expect people to support us and our families when we don’t support them by voting people in power who will create real law reform to help them with what they need not only to survive, but to prosper. This must change.
UM News: We live in an age where specializing in the liberal arts can raise worried eyebrows. Yet here we are, with your story which captivated the country and which began as an essay. What advice could you give to UM students who have a talent for writing in their hearts?
Earth: Well, I can pass on the advice UM Associate Professor David Gates gave me: “The world is totally fucked up, so you might as well do whatever you want.” Other than that, I would highly recommend learning about the craft of writing. Becoming self-employed has a huge learning curve, and most people don’t realize that a lot of your time will be spent on paperwork, building a brand and website, determining taxes and insurance. illness and run your own business. There are a lot of online courses that teach this. The one I love is online through Catapult.
Earth: Most of my job is my ability to advocate for low-paid workers and those living in poverty. This is what I hold on to when things start to get overwhelming. It has been truly amazing to watch my story change the world, and I hope it will continue for a long time to come. UM News: You persevered and fought for your success – two elements to obtain a university degree. While there are many avenues to becoming a professional writer, what is the best advice you’ve gleaned in a UM classroom that has influenced you?
Earth: Honestly, he produced pages. In my last semester in college, I wrote over 100 pages as a single mother to a 6 year old girl who was pregnant with her second child, alone. I am always amazed that I passed that year with good grades. It helped me as a freelance writer as a lot of my job was to submit an essay or article and if they accepted the deadline was pretty quick and I often had to keep up with the news cycle. So all those Shakespeare reports that I procrastinated and wrote at the last minute were actually very helpful!
UM News: Higher education across America and (even here at UM), is figuring out how to make education more accessible to a larger population of diverse students and learners. Getting a bachelor’s degree as a federally-assisted single mother is a very different experience than most “traditional” college students. What about your experiences at UM that can help other universities expand the network and serve students in new ways?
Earth: It would certainly have helped me to have evening and weekend classes to choose from. My last semester in college, I couldn’t work because I had classes every day, whereas before I tried to stack all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that I could work. But even then, I couldn’t work the required 20 hours per week to receive most of the benefits and was kicked out of food stamps.
Better access to on-site child care would have been huge. And child care that was out of schedule Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. My child went to a daycare in the “X” buildings, but it only paid for the hours I was physically in class or at work, so if I had an hour or two between these things, I ended up paying for it. that. There were days when I needed three different babysitters to attend all of my classes. I am eternally grateful to my teachers who made it possible for my child to come to class with me. I don’t think I could have done college without them.
UM News: “Maid” is a worldwide hit on Netflix, your book was a New York Times bestseller, and you pitched Missoula as a writer’s paradise. Yet you have been somewhat sadly rejected from UM’s MFA program. What have you gleaned from the obstacles and academic success?
Earth: I fought to move to Missoula. The father of my child is fighting against change. I couldn’t just move to another state. I couldn’t afford it. I could barely afford to apply for UM’s MFA program, let alone five more. I have heard many reasons for my rejection, from the fact that I had already learned everything (in my two years as an undergraduate) that I could from teachers who taught higher level courses, to the fact that I was not a “sustained” writer (meaning no trust fund or spouse), but I always suspected that the rejection was due to the fact that I was pregnant with my second daughter as a single mother. A teacher once told me that “babies have no place in MFA workshops”. Whatever the reason, since making friends with a lot of MFA students because they were closer to my age, it was personal. It hurts. I didn’t really see this as an academic barrier until I began to seriously consider a career as a professional writer and teaching in academia wouldn’t be an option. Currently, I only see teaching in a university setting as a reason why an MFA is necessary, and often it is not a guarantee.
UM News: Which writers inspire you?
Earth: All writers inspire me, honestly. Those who do the most are the ones who are vulnerable in speaking their truths. Who cry at the readings. Those who are marginalized and not part of the white male trope who often dominate bestseller lists. Every writer inspires me.
UM News: Do you have any rituals as a writer or habits that you have developed over the years?
Earth: When I started out as a self-employed person, I did it with a sleeping baby on my knees, on the floor in the living room of our apartment in a low-rent housing. I moved over to the kitchen table to write “Maid” on a MacBook Air 11 “that someone gave me when my youngest was in daycare. I trust the reading lists. Now, well , I get a shed for her, and that’s pretty exciting. Being at home with three kids during a pandemic isn’t a good writing space. I hope I can stare at a wall in silence for a few days… or a few weeks… and start typing lots of words again.
This press release was produced by the University of Montana. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.