Acclaimed author/journalist to speak at UC Santa Cruz

Award-winning author and journalist Barbara Ehrenreich will present a free public lecture, Thursday, February 13, at 4 p.m. in Kresge Town Hall on the UC Santa Cruz campus. 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, Harper's, 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 jobs. She waited tables, fed Alzheimer's 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 Harper's magazine and received the Sydney Hillman Award for Journalism and a Brill's Content "Honorable Mention." Another essay, "Maid To Order," which evolved out of her research for the book, was published in Harper's the following year, and it generated so many letters that the magazine created a special section just to accommodate them.

"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 women's 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. "She's a researcher, an intellectual, an activist--someone who is really working for social change. And that's enormously important."

In a recent interview, Ehrenreich noted how Nickel and Dimed has affected her life since its publication in 2002.

"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 to ask: 'what am I doing for change, what am I doing to make this a less brutally, unequal society?"


Barbara Ehrenreich will also present a seminar on Friday, February 14, at 10 a.m. in the Cowell Conference Room on the UC Santa Cruz campus.