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Author, Krantz reads from nonfiction work

BY JULIA JESSEN | FEBRUARY 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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Workers rolled open the locked door of a railroad car in 2002 in Denison, Iowa, and discovered 11 undocumented immigrants who had died horrific deaths while trying to make their way to new lives.

That is the premise of Colleen Bradford Krantz's book Train to Nowhere: Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation. She will read excerpts from the work at 5 p.m. Saturday at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuquej St.

"To me, it was important to tell the story in a way that people could appreciate and listen to, regardless of their viewpoint on immigration," she said.

When Krantz heard about the story, she was working as a reporter for the Des Moines Register's Iowa City branch. She paid close attention to the events but didn't begin to write about them until she decided to stay at home with her children and realized she would miss writing.

Krantz remained fascinated with the events of the tragedy and chose to make them the subject of her nonfiction book.

"I think at first it was probably the science — wondering what science could tell us about what the people in the railcar endured and more importantly, I wanted to know more about the stories of the people who died," Krantz said.

Later, the book became more about those who survived, such as relatives, immigration agents, and others involved.

"They're the ones who kept me interested in the story because of the way the story affected their own lives [and] all of the emotional issues that came with it for many of the people," she said.

When Krantz started working on the book, many people told her she needed to pick a side in the immigration debate and have a political agenda in how she told the story.

"As a journalist, that really rubbed me the wrong way," she said. "I kept thinking, 'Isn't it OK to just tell the story and let people decide how they feel about it?' "

She wanted to write objectively and have the humanity of everyone involved present in her writing.
Steve Semken, the publisher of Train to Nowhere at Ice Cube Press, said Krantz's objectivity was beneficial.

"The advantage of that is, I've seen her at events where people on both sides of the issue will come and ask questions, and she's able to answer either opinion because she knows both sides," he said.

Despite how much media attention the events in Denison received, Krantz had a hard time publishing her book because publishers weren't sure if "immigrant tragedy books" would sell. So Krantz decided to make her research into a documentary that aired on Iowa Public Television in the fall of 2010. As a result of the publicity of the documentary, the book was published.

Paul Kakert, the director and coproducer of the film, said he describes Krantz's style as technically accurate but with a "personal feel" to it.

"When you're dealing with reporting the facts of a case that have a lot to do with court documents, those types of things can tend to be fairly dry and straightforward," he said. "But what's always important to me is the emotional and human side of that, and her style mixed those two very well."


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