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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 22, 2006

Crack Addict Turned 911 Operator Reads Oct. 5 On WSUI

Carolyn Burau, a former crack addict and now a 911 dispatch operator in White Bear Lake, Minn., will read from her new book, "Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat," at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City.

The reading, hosted by Julie Englander, will be broadcast on the "Live from Prairie Lights" series on UI radio station WSUI-AM 910. Listen on the Internet at

Burau, who is also a former newspaper reporter, locksmith and nursing student who couldn't stand the sight of blood, took the job as an emergency dispatcher because she wanted to help people. But she has confided, "I'm willing to settle for just not killing anybody."

She describes a world where a call reporting a genuine emergency may be followed by a complaint about a neighbor's clarinet practice; where a dispatcher plays video games while listening to a suicidal caller; and where "frequent flyers" invent daily crises as an excuse to call 911.

"In this age of cordless phones, sometimes my callers are able to multitask -- screaming at me on the phone while trying to kill each other," she told City Pages in the Twin Cities. "I'm waiting for the day when someone puts me on speaker phone so as to keep both hands free to strangle a spouse."

Michael Perry, author of "Population 485," wrote, "Burau puts us in the hot seat and shows us the madness, the sadness, and the gallows humor of a profession that serves and protects in ways we never dream. And by telling us what goes on when the microphone is silent, she has taken the voice on the radio and given it a heart."

Alison McGhee, author of "Shadow Baby," adds, "The day may come when I have to dial 911. I hope to God that the person who answers is Caroline Burau or someone like her. Funny, honest, and elegantly simple, this book left me with a sense of grace and hope."

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,