January 27, 2003
'Nickel and Dimed' author Barbara Ehrenreich
By Scott Rappaport
Award-winning author and journalist Barbara Ehrenreich will present
a free public lecture on Thursday, February 13, at 4 p.m. in Kresge
Town Hall on the UC Santa Cruz campus.
|Barbara Ehrenreich Photo:
Ehrenreich will address themes raised in her recent best-selling book,
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. She is the
first distinguished visitor to be sponsored by the new Institute for
Advanced Feminist Research at UCSC.
Ehrenreich has been a contributing writer for Time magazine
since 1990. Her work has appeared in a wide range of national publications,
including the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post
Magazine, Ms., Esquire, Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, the
Nation, the New Republic, Social Policy, and Mirabella,
as well as a variety of newspapers throughout the world.
Between 1998 and 2000, Ehrenreich traveled to three different American
cities and attempted to support herself on the wages of entry-level
She waited tables, fed Alzheimers patients at a nursing home,
cleaned the toilets of the rich, and worked as a stocker at Wal-Mart.
Her original idea was to write a magazine article about whether she
could survive alone on those wages. Instead, she wrote Nickel and
Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, a powerful, insightful book
that garnered a great deal of media attention.
A chapter of the book appeared in Harpers magazine and
received the Sydney Hillman Award for Journalism and a Brills
Content "Honorable Mention." Another essay, "Maid
To Order," which evolved out of her research for the book, was
published in Harpers the following year, and it generated
so many letters that the magazine created a special section just to
"I think her book, Nickel and Dimed, has really raised
consciousness about what it means to be in the ranks of the working
poor in this nation," observed Helene Moglen, professor of literature
at UC Santa Cruz. "The issues that she raises in her book only
become more timely every day, as more and more people join the ranks
of the working poor and unemployed."
A prolific social critic, Ehrenreich has written numerous books over
the past two decades about welfare, war, class, and womens health.
Her work is widely lauded for its unrelenting commitment to feminism
and social change. She concludes Nickel and Dimed by stating:
The working poor as they are approvingly termed, are
in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their
own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they
live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect;
they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices
high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor,
a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.
"I think what Ehrenreich is trying to do is bring to the privileged
classes some understanding about what their privilege rests upon,"
Moglen said. "Shes a researcher, an intellectual, an activist--someone
who is really working for social change. And thats enormously
In a recent interview, Ehrenreich noted how Nickel and Dimed
has affected her life since its publication in 2001.
"It certainly influences my agenda as a writer and as, in some
small scale, an activist," she said. "You have to come out
of these situations and say the only way to justify going back into
a middle-class style
well, I say justify, but I was desperate to
go back to middle-class life
is to ask: what am I doing for
change, what am I doing to make this a less brutally, unequal society?"
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