Jon Krakauer goes to Missoula, Mont., to discuss book about rape

The author of the New York Times best-seller, "Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town," will be in Missoula Wednesday to face angry critics.

(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
Colorado-based author Jon Krakauer gestures during an interview in Denver in November 2014. Krakauer doesn’t plan a book tour to promote his latest work, “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.” But he does plan one public appearance in Missoula, where he'll face angry critics who say his portrayal of the small town is unfair.

Jon Krakauer, the best-selling author of "Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town," is headed to the titular town Wednesday to face angry critics who say his decision to focus on the small Montana city is unfair.

Krakauer said Tuesday that he wasn't planning a book tour or any other public appearances to promote the book, but he wanted to give those critics in Missoula the chance to confront him.

"It took me by surprise that people were so upset by the title," Krakauer told The Associated Press. "It seemed like a perfect example of a problem that exists nationwide."

"I never meant to hold Missoula up as the worst case. It's not," he added.

The book, which ranks fourth on the New York Times' hardcover nonfiction best-seller list, uses the city to illustrate what Krakauer calls a nationwide problem faced by rape victims to persuade police and prosecutors to pursue their cases.

The book is especially timely given the widely discredited Rolling Stone article about sexual assault on the campus of University of Virginia. 

The Krakauer book focuses on several University of Montana women who were assaulted between 2010 and 2012, the same period covered in a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into whether Missoula and university officials mishandled rape reports. The federal inquiry led to reforms in how the university and city respond to sexual assaults.

Critics have denounced Krakauer, the author of the best-selling books "Into Thin Air" and "Into the Wild," for turning the spotlight on Missoula and accuse him of reopening wounds inflicted by the Justice Department investigation. Others criticize the book as a one-sided account that doesn't include the voices of the prosecutors he depicts as failing the rape victims.

Krakauer said he tried to get comment from Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst, but he stopped when her attorney threatened him with a lawsuit. He said he would welcome Pabst and others from the county attorney's office to the forum, saying he has questions he would like to ask them.

Pabst did not return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Krakauer said he did not know what kind of reception to expect in Missoula but that he hoped the forum would "clear the air."

"I get it. Missoula takes a lot of pride in the town — as Missoulians should — and this book was seen as an attack on the integrity of the town, which it is not," Krakauer said.

His focus on the town came after he started following rape cases across the nation, the author said. He decided that the subject could be turned into a book after traveling to Montana to hear the impressive testimony of one of the victims he profiles, he said.

The forum, organized by Fact and Fiction Bookstore owner Barbara Theroux, will consist of University of Montana School of Journalism Dean Larry Abramson interviewing Krakauer and asking him questions submitted by the public in advance.

"I hope that some of the healing and some of the good things that have already started in Missoula ... can continue to be discussed and that victims will continue to feel their support in the community to report incidents," Theroux said.

Abramson declined to detail what questions he would ask Krakauer, but he said he wants to find out why the author picked Missoula and why he chose to speak to the people he did. He credited Krakauer for traveling to Missoula.

"I think if people feel a little less uncomfortable about the fact that this book was dropped on the town, and at least he came to explain himself, that would be a worthwhile goal to me," Abramson said.

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