“The more hours you put in at your job, the more money you made. Why would you risk going into debt for school?”

Illustration: Lorenzo Gritti

Xhenet Aliu is the author of the novel Brass and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize winner for her novel Domesticated Wild Things. Aliu has worked as a waitress, an office temp, and a private investigator and is now an academic librarian and creative writing instructor. Here’s how she made ends meet.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Xhenet Aliu: It meant working on an assembly line somewhere, having a card you punched into a machine. I grew up in a 100 percent blue-collar family. Construction or manufacturing was pretty much it. …


“I would work on the memoir on my commute and in the crew room on my breaks.”

Illustration: Lorenzo Gritti

Sujatha Gidla’s memoir, Ants Among Elephants, traces an educated family deemed untouchable (Dalit) by the caste system in India. It was one of the Wall Street Journal’s Top 10 Nonfiction Book of 2017. Gidla wrote banking software applications for almost 10 years before becoming a subway conductor with the New York City Transit Authority. Here’s how she made ends meet.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Sujatha Gidla: My mother and father were [college] lecturers. My father taught English, and my mother taught history. In India, if you don’t speak English, you don’t go anywhere, so people…


“I worked as the super in exchange for cheap rent on a crappy little ground-floor apartment.”

Illustration: Lorenzo Gritti

Camille Perri is the author of the novels The Assistants and When Katie Met Cassidy, one of NPR’s Best Books of 2018. Among other jobs, Camille worked as a librarian, a ghostwriter of young adult fiction, books editor for Cosmopolitan and Esquire, and, of course, an assistant. Here’s how she made ends meet.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Camille Perri: My father came to this country [from Italy] when he was 18. He was a tailor who worked at a dry cleaners, then in Men’s Suits at Macy’s. My mom was a library clerk. My sisters…


“I was still being a responsible Indian kid getting a monetizable degree from an American university.”

Illustration: Lorenzo Gritti

Karan Mahajan’s second novel, The Association of Small Bombs, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Mahajan has worked as a cricket editor for a sports website and a consultant on economic and urban planning. Here’s how he made ends meet.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Karan Mahajan: I had a pretty standard bourgeois idea of the man going off with a mysterious set of papers that no one in the family would see. When I was five or seven, I would take sheets of paper and walk to the driveway with my red plastic…


“I really didn’t want to leave my job. I understood that it was going to help me creatively.”

Illustration: Lorenzo Gritti

Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of We Love You Charlie Freeman, has won a Whiting Award and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Among other jobs, Greenidge has worked as a park ranger on Boston’s Black Heritage Trail and an assistant at the YWCA. Here’s how she made ends meet.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Kaitlyn Greenidge: I grew up in a family that was educationally upper middle class but economically lower class. We all went to prep school, but we were working poor. That said, my mom always worked jobs that she found intellectually interesting. She…


“My teacher told me, ‘Don’t go right to a graduate program. Join the Navy so that you have something to write about.’”

Illustration: Lorenzo Gritti

Will Mackin’s story collection, Bring Out the Dog, was nominated for the PEN/Robert Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. Mackin is a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Navy who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his career, he served as a weapons system officer aboard a carrier-based jet, a speechwriter at the Pentagon, and a joint terminal attack controller attached to a SEAL team. Here’s how he made ends meet.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Will Mackin: Cheesy as it sounds, I went on a double date to see Top Gun when it came out in 1986…


“I was smart, I was the eldest — it was on me to pull up my family.”

Illustration: Lorenzo Gritti

Nicole Dennis-Benn’s debut novel, Here Comes the Sun, was one of NPR’s Best Books of 2016. Before earning her MFA in creative writing, Dennis-Benn worked in public health. She now teaches writing at Princeton University. Her novel Patsy will be out in June 2019. Here’s how she made ends meet.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Nicole Dennis-Benn: I grew up in a working-class community in Kingston, Jamaica. People there are teachers and hotel clerks, police officers or handypeople. It was service work, never anything they really liked. Nobody ever talked about passions — it was always…


“I’m a big believer in making a living, so I wrote at night or when nobody needed anything from me.”

Illustration: Lorenzo Gritti

Amy Bloom is the New York Times bestselling author of such novels as Lucky Us and White Houses, a Financial Times Best Book of 2018. Among other jobs, Bloom has worked as therapist, written catalog copy, and created the Lifetime series State of Mind. Here’s how she made ends meet.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Amy Bloom: It looked like a job. Five or six days a week, my dad [Murray Teigh Bloom] got up, had breakfast, and went to his office in the house, which overlooked the driveway. When I came home from school, he…


‘’Guys in prison always say, ‘I wish someone would write my life story. It would be a bestseller.’ So I thought I’d start writing mine.”

Illustration: Lorenzo Gritti

Mitchell S. Jackson’s debut novel, The Residue Years, won the Ernest Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence. Among other jobs, Jackson has worked as a dishwasher while serving time in prison, stacked newspapers, written scripts for television news, and freelanced extensively. He is a now a clinical associate professor at New York University. His memoir, Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family, will be released in March. Here’s how he made ends meet.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mitchell S. Jackson: My mom had a lot of different jobs. A department store, an office job. The job…


“I wrote in my email browser so it looked like I was writing an email.”

Illustration: Lorenzo Gritti

Carmen Maria Machado’s debut story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, was a finalist for the National Book Award and has since been optioned by FX. Machado has worked as a caregiver and in retail, at both a sex shop and a luxury bath goods store. She currently teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. Here’s how she made ends meet.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Carmen Maria Machado: Oh yeah. I wrote poems, little books that I made. In maybe third or fourth grade, we learned how to send a letter. My godmother gave me personalized…

Mike Gardner

Reader. Writer. Paramedic.

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