Boys in the Bunkhouse
Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland
by Dan Barry
Kirkus starred review:
“Gently, empathetically, and indelibly, Barry conveys a tale of unthinkable brutality”
With this Dickensian tale from America’s heartland, New York Times writer and columnist Dan Barry tells the harrowing yet uplifting story of the exploitation and abuse of a resilient group of men with intellectual disability, and the heroic efforts of those who helped them to find justice and reclaim their lives.
“Dan Barry gives dignity even to the darkest corners of the American experience. He is the closest thing we have to a contemporary Steinbeck.” – Colum McCann, author of the National Book Award-winning Let the Great World Spin
In the tiny Iowa farm town of Atalissa, dozens of men, all with intellectual disability and all from Texas, lived in an old schoolhouse. Before dawn each morning, they were bussed to a nearby processing plant, where they eviscerated turkeys in return for food, lodging, and $65 a month. They lived in near servitude for more than 30 years, enduring increasing neglect, exploitation, and physical and emotional abuse—until state social workers, local journalists, and one tenacious labor lawyer helped these men achieve freedom.
Drawing on exhaustive interviews, Dan Barry dives deeply into the lives of the men, recording their memories of suffering, loneliness and fleeting joy, as well as the undying hope they maintained despite their traumatic circumstances. Barry 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 has spurred advocates and policymakers—including President Obama—to push for just pay and improved working conditions for people living with disabilities.
A luminous work of social justice, told with compassion and compelling detail, The Boys in the Bunkhouse is more than just inspired storytelling. It is a clarion call for a vigilance that ensures inclusion and dignity for all.
The Kansas City Star weighs in with an early, favorable review: “Eloquently and lamentably laid out…clearly and engagingly explains the problems and constructs the arc of evolving public understanding of mental disabilities over that 30-year period.” Click here for the full review.
Release date: May 17!
The New York Times reporter and columnist Dan Barry won the 2015 Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest top prize for “The Boys in the Bunkhouse,” published in the Times in March 2014. Full Story
Dan Barry received the Maplewood Literary Award at Maplewood Library’s Ideas Festival on April 2nd.