Krakauer book
courtesy photo

Jon Krakauer's new book, "Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town," will come out April 21, according to the bestselling author's website.

The book presents "a stark, powerful, meticulously reported narrative about a series of sexual assaults at the University of Montana – stories that illuminate the human drama behind the national plague of campus rape."

Krakauer is a bestselling author whose work includes "Into Thin Air," "Into the Wild" and "Under the Banner of Heaven." His website is presented by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and Random House.

In 2011, an investigation of rape in Missoula put the city and UM in the national spotlight for the way authorities treated victims of sexual assault. A rape case against UM Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson, who was later acquitted, further increased the scrutiny of sexual assault on college campuses.

In a statement, Krakauer said he decided to write the book after learning that someone he knew had been raped. Publisher's Weekly printed the author's comment.

"I was angry with myself for being so uninformed, not only about her ordeal but about non-stranger rape in general," Krakauer said. "I responded by doing a lot of reading, and seeking out rape survivors who were willing to share their stories. The more I listened to these women, the more disturbed I became.”

***

The book comes out as UM appears to be turning the page on its approach to victims of sexual violence. Peggy Kuhr, vice president for integrated communications at the University of Montana, said UM has held trainings about sexual assault, changed related policies and procedures, and launched other solutions.

"The book covers a period of time that really has helped lead the university and the community to substantial improvements in safety assurances, in policies, and in where we are as a community in general," Kuhr said.

She did not directly address whether UM officials are concerned that Krakauer's book will reflect poorly on UM as it works to mend its reputation.

"Is it a concern for you as a citizen of this community?" Kuhr said.

***

Last year, Krakauer sued for release of records surrounding the disciplinary hearing of a UM football player he identified as Johnson. He requested documents detailing the actions of the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education after a UM disciplinary committee found Johnson guilty of rape and ordered him expelled.

Johnson was never expelled from UM, however. He was temporarily suspended from the football team, but was reinstated after his acquittal in Missoula County District Court.

On Monday, attorney Mike Meloy said Krakauer has not received any of the records requested. The Helena lawyer said an appeal on the release of the documents is pending a decision by the Montana Supreme Court.

"The first edition won't have the results of (the) university disciplinary proceeding, but Jon is eager to get this information for subsequent editions," Meloy said.

In particular, Meloy said, his client would like the material for a paperback version, "which could be out as early as this fall."

Last fall, Helena District Court Judge Kathy Seeley ordered the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education to release the records. In an attempt to keep the documents sealed, the Commissioner's Office appealed the decision to the Montana Supreme Court.

In her order, Judge Seeley said “the student” didn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the redacted records sought by the author.

The office of the commissioner disagreed, though, and sought the advice of the U.S. Department of Education. The federal agency advised the state against releasing the records, despite Seeley’s order.

In March 2013, Johnson was acquitted of rape. Last year, Johnson was a senior, and he played his final season as a UM quarterback.

***

In the book announcement, the narrative describes Missoula as a "typical college town." It notes improper handling of sexual assaults by university and local authorities also is typical in college towns.

"The university expelled three of the accused rapists, but one was reinstated by state officials in a secret proceeding," reads the book summary. "One district attorney testified for an alleged rapist at his university hearing."

In 2012, UM president Royce Engstrom fired athletic director Jim O’Day and football coach Robin Pflugrad. The president also began talking about tending to UM's "powerhouse" reputation and looking to the future.

The Publisher's Weekly story notes the first printing by Doubleday will be 500,000 copies.

Garth Whitson, of Missoula's Shakespeare and Co. bookstore, said a large run isn't unusual for Krakauer. However, in an email, he said the number of copies is a sizable printing.

"Five hundred thousand copies is a large run – it can go higher for John Grisham or a book by an ex-president," Whitson said.

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Reporter for the Missoulian