Jan Jarboe Russell: Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau

Jan Jarboe Russell

Award-Winning Journalist and Best-Selling Author

Jan Jarboe Russell, a prize-winning journalist, is the author of The Train to Crystal City, an Amazon.com Best Books of the Month for January 2015 which entered the New York Times Bestseller List on February 8. Five years in the making, The Train To Crystal City exposes a corner of American history that few new existed.

From 1942 to 1945, secret government trains delivered civilians from the United States and Latin America to Crystal City, a small desert town at the southern tip of Texas. The trains carried Japanese, German and Italian immigrants and their American-born children. Over the course of the war, Crystal City became the center of President Roosevelt’s prisoner exchange program. Thousands of prisoners in Crystal City, including their children, were exchanged for other Americans behind enemy lines in Japan and Germany.

Russell focuses her story of heartbreaking dislocation on two American-born teenage girls, one of German descent and the other of Japanese, exposing the details of their years spent in the camp, the struggles of their fathers, and their families journeys to war-devastated Germany and Japan. The New York Times called the book “mind boggling” and said: “The Train to Crystal City combines accounts of terrible sorrow and destruction with great perseverance. . . Readers [will] wish these stories weren’t true.”

In her speeches around the country, Russell discusses how the definition of citizenship changes under the pressures of war and shares how many of the completely innocent children who were traded into war transformed themselves into strong, resilient and patriotic Americans against overwhelming odds. Their stories demonstrate how individuals scapegoated in war because of their race and ethnicity became the saviors of their own lives and that of their parents. Ultimately, their stories are inspiring and offer lessons in how to cope with a fundamental existential question: Why do innocent people suffer and how is suffering not only borne but transformed?

Over her forty year career as a journalist, Jan has written for numerous newspapers and magazine, including Texas Monthly, More, Slate, The New York Times, and earlier in her career The Savannah Morning News, The San Antonio Light, The Heart Bureau in Washington, D.C., The Houston Chronicle and others.

In 1984, she was a Nieman Fellow At Harvard college, one of twelve American journalists to study at Harvard during that academic year. While at Harvard, she studied American literature. As a result, she shifted her career towards long-form journalism with a focus on politics, religion and social issues. Upon her return to Texas in 1985, she joined Texas Monthly magazine as a senior editor. In 1989, her story, “Adoption: The Woes of Wednesday’s Child,” about the need for reform of adoption practices in Texas, was selected the best magazine story of the year by the Headliner’s Club. In 1993, she won the award again for a story entitled “Why Me?” about the family of the Rev. Jimmy Allen, who lost three family members to AIDS.

In 1999, Scribner published her well-received biography of Lady Bird Johnson. On December 5, 1999, Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post named Lady Bird: A Biography of Mrs. Johnson one of his best books of the year. Said Yardley: “Jan Jarboe Russell treats Lady Bird Johnson as a substantial figure in her own right rather than merely an appendage to her husband, the president.” In 2007, she compiled They Lived to Tell the Tale, published under The Explorer’s Club imprint in New York, New York.

She lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband, Dr. Lewis F. Russell, Jr.

Praise and Testimonials

"Through her research and interviews, Jan opened up the hearts of all of us who were in the Crystal City Internment Camp. After all those years of imprisonment, would would have thought that a rainbow would shine over us?" -- Sumi Utsushigawa Shimatsu, a protagonist of The Train to Crystal City.

"Words will ever be inadequate to express my appreciation and gratefulness for documenting my mother's story and bringing her dream of disclosure to fruition." -- Diana Foster, daughter of subject Ingrid Eiserloh.

"Jan Jarboe Russell is one of the best speakers I have ever seen. She can tell a great story, be folksy and funny, all the while illuminating even the most difficult complex and moral issues with incisive clarity. During the National Launch of The Train to Crystal City—which tells the dramatic story of a secret World War II family internment camp and prisoner exchange program in Crystal City Texas, I saw her hold a room of over 300 San Antonio citizens of all ages spellbound. There were no pyrotechnics involved—just Jan being Jan. Few speakers I have seen have as much intelligence, grace, and simple old-fashioned respect for the audience." -- Sheila Black, Executive Director, Gemini Ink, San Antonio's Literary Arts Organization

“Jan is a compelling story-teller, both on the written page and in person. Students, faculty, and the general audience were drawn in by her clear and sympathetic narrative of events all too often left out of the World War II internment story.” -- Dr. J.F. de la Teja, Supple Professor of Southwestern Studies, Texas State University

Interested in booking Jan Jarboe Russell to speak at your next event?

Contact Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau.

(866) 248-3049

  • The Secrets of Crystal City
  • From Scapegoats to Saviors
  • War Stories: Sumi, Ingrid, and Internment in America
  • From the New Deal to World War II: FDR's Presidency Makes a Sharp Turn

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