Iowa History Center Co-Sponsor of Dan Barry Talk March 30 in Des Moines

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dan Barry will visit Des Moines this month to speak about his new book about the harrowing yet uplifting story of intellectually disabled men who endured decades of exploitation in Atalissa, Iowa, before finding justice and freedom.

Barry, a reporter and columnist with the New York Times, will talk about “The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 30, at the State Historical Museum of Iowa, 600 E. Locust St. in Des Moines.

The event, which is free and open to the public, is co-organized by the Iowa History Center at Simpson College and the State Historical Society of Iowa. A pre-talk reception with drinks and refreshments begins at 5:30 p.m. A book signing will follow the program. Books will be available for purchase from Beaverdale Books.

More information is available at 515-281-5111 or 515-961-1528.

Published by HarperCollins, “The Boys in the Bunkhouse” dives deep into the lives of dozens of men, all with intellectual disabilities and all from Texas, who lived in squalor at an old schoolhouse in Atalissa.

Before dawn, they were shuttled to a nearby processing plant, where they eviscerated turkeys in exchange for food, lodging and $65 a month. For more than 30 years they endured increasing neglect, exploitation, and physical and emotional abuse until they regained their freedom with help from a group led by social worker Natalie Neel-McGlaughlin, Des Moines Register reporter Clark Kauffman and Texas labor lawyer Robert Canino.

Drawing on exhaustive interviews with the men, Barry recounts their suffering, loneliness and fleeting joy, as well as the undying hope they maintained despite their traumatic circumstances. Barry also explores how a small Iowa town remained oblivious to the plight of these men, analyzes the many causes for such profound and chronic negligence, and lays out the impact of the men’s dramatic court case, which spurred advocates — including President Obama — to push for fair pay and better working conditions for people with disabilities.

Barry has won numerous awards for both breaking news and human-interest reporting. He was part of The Providence Journal investigative team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for its series on the Rhode Island court system, and he was a Pulitzer finalist twice more, for his 2006 slice-of-life reports from hurricane-battered New Orleans and for his 2010 accounts of how the Great Recession has reshaped the lives and relationships of Americans nationwide.

The Iowa History Center at Simpson College is committed to preserving and promoting the state’s history and encouraging a public conversation about the story of Iowa. Its mission is to advance the understanding and appreciation of Iowa history among the state’s students, scholars and general public.

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