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Missoula by Jon Krakauer
Jon Krakauer may be best known for his books Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, but both those classics of outdoors adventure turned tragic were published in the late 90s. Since then, Krakauer has been building a list of acclaimed nonfiction bestsellers, and Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town is the latest. The subtitle doesn’t leave much doubt about the book’s subject. In light of the Rolling Stone/University of Virginia scandal, the publishers moved the book’s publication date up to April. We picked it as a Best Book of April.
For the past few weeks, Krakauer has been on a grueling publicity tour for the book. We were happy to get him to answer a few questions for the Book Store PD:
Chris Schluep: What led you to decide to write this book? Was it the topic or the events in Missoula that came first for you?
Jon Krakauer: I learned that a young woman with whom my wife and I are very close had been severely traumatized after being sexually assaulted by a man she trusted, so I began doing research about the topic of acquaintance rape. This research alerted me to the events in Missoula that became the subject of my book.
CS: How did you gain the trust of the women who went through this ordeal?
KRAKAUER: I spoke with each of the women at length, explained why I wanted to include them in my book, and by doing so apparently struck them as trustworthy.
CS: Were there people who refused to deal with you while you were researching Missoula?
KRAKAUER: Yes. I emailed some questions to Kirsten Pabst, the Missoula County prosecutor who is a central figure in the book, but she refused to answer them, or even speak to me. Instead she demanded that I have my lawyer contact her, and then sent him a thinly veiled threat to sue me. Another prosecutor ignored the emails I sent her. When I contacted the lawyer representing a convicted rapist whom I wrote about, asking to interview this rapist in prison, the lawyer never replied. When I contacted another man who allegedly assaulted one of the women in my book, his lawyers rejected my request for an interview after a month of negotiations, and threatened to sue me. There were other individuals who declined to talk to me, as well.
CS: It’s an emotional experience to read the details behind this story. As the author you had to be sober and measured in your accounting; how did you deal with the emotions yourself?
KRAKAUER: There were certainly occasions when my emotions threatened to get the better of me as I was researching and writing this book. If my feelings seemed to be impacting my work in a detrimental way, I would take a break and walk in the hills above my home until I regained my equilibrium. I will confess that I often found it impossible to stop thinking about the disturbing stuff I was writing about at the end of the day. I had many sleepless nights. Still do.
CS: What do you say to Montanans and others who say that this problem is already behind them?
KRAKAUER: Missoula has taken significant steps to rectify many of the problems described in my book. But the process is far from finished. None of the victims I wrote about have managed to put the trauma they suffered behind them yet.
CS: For a long time you were viewed as an outdoor/adventure writer. Did you always envision a shift away from that genre?
KRAKAUER: Even though I am probably best known for writing Into the Wild and Into Thin Air, since 1983, when I quit working as a carpenter to begin freelancing fulltime for magazines, I have also written about non-outdoor subjects such as art, architecture, science, business, and popular culture. I once wrote an article about fire walking for Rolling Stone. I have written about wigs for Smithsonian. Under the Banner of Heaven, the book I wrote after Into Thin Air, is an examination of religious fundamentalism. The book I wrote after that, Where Men Win Glory, is about Pat Tillman, the professional football player killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. I still spend a lot of time climbing and hiking and snowboarding, but I seldom write about these activities any more (although I sometimes post photos of my outdoor escapades on my Instagram account).
CS: You point out that the culture outlined in Missoula is a nationwide problem. How optimistic are you that it can be changed? What do you think will change it?
KRAKAUER: I am guardedly optimistic that our society can, and will, come around to addressing our widespread rape problem, but I don’t see it happening quickly. The transformation will come about—is already coming about—as a result of courageous women like those in my book. Women who refuse to be shamed into silence. Women who strike a blow against their assailants by speaking out about what has been done to them, and demanding that rapists be held accountable.
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