After a blog post about her life in poverty went viral, Linda Tirado suffered the — these days — expected and consequential backlash. Still, the quick burst of fame led to a career working in poverty activism and a book deal; she also oversees Bootstrap Industries. I called Tirado up to see what she’s digging on the media front these days.
“As far as my work in poverty, Barbara Ehrenreich is a great trendsetter,” Tirado tells me of the author and activist who also provided the foreword to Tirado’s book, Hand to Mouth. She makes sure to point me to Ehrenreich’s Economic Hardship Reporting Project. “There are a ton of really good new writers out there,” Tirado continues. She names off examples like Patrick Butler, Katie Klabusich, and Ryan Cooper. And even comedian and radio host Pete Dominick. “Basically in the U.S., we’re spoiled for choice. The media is talking about the issue because it hits so many people. I recommend you go to places like The Daily Beast or The Guardian or The Atlantic or The Week or The Huffington Post — all of those places are going to feature articles — and you sit down and find writers that make sense to you. There are so many good writers and so many styles.”
Tirado also shouts out Longform as a place to check out great writing, in general. I ask her how she unwinds after work. “Music, wine, and books. Or music, whiskey, and books, depending on the day,” she says. So, what’s she been listening to? “This year I have spent a remarkable amount of time listening to Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. Also Nina Simone, tons of Nina Simone this year.”
When she reads, Tirado isn’t really taking time off from work. The name of the game is heavy material. “And as far as the reading, I’m the worst geek ever. Right at this moment I’m reading a book called Debunking Economics by Steve Keen, who is a fantastic econ writer,” she says. “A book that I’ve read twice this year is called Tribal Science. It’s by this guy called Mike McRae — he does ant metaphors and crazy insights like that. I try to read economics or social science or philosophy. They keep letting me write for these huge outlets and I feel like at some point I should have some idea of what the hell I’m talking about.”
I ask Tirado if she ever reads fiction. “I wish I had the time. If it was up to me I’d be doing nothing but reading insane fantasy cycles. But they took me from the kitchen and in two years they’ve got me talking econ,” she says of her jump from two low-paying jobs to her current state. “So, I feel like I should do that first. But there are such engaging writers out there on the topic and so many people who use lighthearted jokes so you’re like, ‘Oh, okay, I get that.’ I read a graphic novel about Ayn Rand. It was amazing. It’s called The Virtue of Selfishness. It definitely has an opinion, I will say — but just the idea that you can get a knowledge base from reading graphic novels and pop culture books. Where they’re like, ‘Listen, we’re going to explain Adam Smith only we’re going to do it and we’re going to tell Cartman stories the whole time.’ It’s a bit pop culture, but when you’re just starting out in that field, it’s really accessible.”
Criticize her all you like but Tirado is definitely taking her new role on with aplomb. She doesn’t loaf about, binging Netflix — as far as she tells me — or watching The Bachelor. I ask if she’s into any podcasts. “No, I was dedicated to The Bugle and then it died. I unfortunately haven’t really had time to get into the podcast thing. If I was a runner I probably would, but I’m way too lazy. That’s the thing, all of my friends who listen to podcasts run, and: Nope, it’s not going to happen.” Good to know there’s at least one thing Tirado isn’t taking too seriously.