A Literary Guide to Las Vegas
November – December 2017
By MEGAN EDWARDS
The word “literary” does not often turn up as a modifier for Las Vegas. The only books to be found in Sin City are sports books, and literacy is not a requirement for excelling at blackjack, playing the slots, or even holding down a job. Because everybody is a dealer, a showgirl, or a monosyllabic gangster, right?
We all know these stereotypes are outdated, but what remains less recognized is that Las Vegas does merit recognition as a vibrant literary community. The list below gives only a glimpse of the world of letters thriving in southern Nevada and the players—writers, philanthropists, activists, archivists, and entrepreneurs—behind its growth.
CLARK COUNTY LIBRARIES
Let’s start with libraries. Every city has them, but the libraries of Clark County deserve special mention. More than 30 public libraries in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, and the outlying communities serve the readers of southern Nevada. Libraries in the Clark County Library District, each designed by a different architect, are all worth visiting for their buildings alone. In addition to beautiful reading and meeting rooms, most have art galleries and theaters. Touring authors often hold events in the large, state-of-the-art auditorium at the main library in central Las Vegas. Talks, panels, classes, workshops, and discussion groups are just a few of the events for readers and writers offered at libraries all over the valley every month.
VEGAS VALLEY BOOK FESTIVAL
Since its founding in 2002, the annual Vegas Valley Book Festival has become the largest literary event in Nevada, a “one-stop shopping experience for literature” now drawing more than 10,000 attendees each October. More than 800 authors and speakers have been featured over the years, along with more than 500 events, panels, readings, workshops, and book signings. Free and open to the public, the VVBF is held at the charming and historic Fifth Street School in downtown Las Vegas. Daniel “Lemony Snicket” Handler was a keynote speaker at this year’s festival, along with best-selling author Sharon M. Draper.
CITY OF ASYLUM
In 2001, Las Vegas became a safe haven for writers whose voices have been muted by censorship or the threat of imprisonment or assassination in their home countries. As the first North American-based City of Asylum, Las Vegas has provided support, recognition, and annual stipends to writers from Iran, China, and Sierra Leone. The current City of Asylum Fellow is fiction writer and award-winning screenwriter Hossein M. Abkenar, whose books are banned in Iran.
UNLV AND THE BLACK MOUNTAIN INSTITUTE
Easily the shining star in the Las Vegas literary community, the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute has emerged as one of the most prestigious organizations of its kind in the country. It’s also among the best-funded, thanks to a $30 million pledge by board member Beverly Rogers, one of the largest gifts in history to a literary institution. Working in tandem with the nationally acclaimed UNLV department of English, BMI offers residential and faculty fellowships, degree programs in creative writing, and also sponsors literary publications. The newest one is The Believer magazine, originally published in San Francisco and known for mixing pop genres with literary theory.
THE WRITER’S BLOCK
The Writer’s Block in downtown Las Vegas is more than a delightful independent bookstore that hosts a variety of author events, book groups, panels, and talks every month. Through Codex, its production and publishing arm, writers and artists can produce original novels, magazines, screenplays, and works in a variety of media. Codex also offers free classes and field trips for students and teachers. A nexus for the literary community in Las Vegas—uniting “town and gown” in a welcoming setting—The Writer’s Block will move into larger quarters soon, a testament to its popularity and success.
THE CLARK COUNTY MUSEUM COLLECTION OF VEGAS FICTION
Gathered by Clark County Museum administrator, bibliophile, and Pawn Stars icon Mark Hall-Patton over the last two decades, this collection includes around 2,000 mass market novels, all of which are set in Las Vegas. While the books are not currently on display, they have been catalogued to allow research on the evolution of public perceptions of Las Vegas from World War II to the present. They also illustrate the perennial and growing appeal of Las Vegas as a setting for fiction.
Founded in 2001, the Henderson Writers Group supports aspiring and published authors in the Vegas Valley. Focused on networking and education, the group holds regular meetings and critique sessions. It also sponsors the annual Las Vegas Writers Conference each April, bringing authors, editors, and publishers together from all over the country. Also active is the Las Vegas Writers Group, which holds monthly meetings with speakers at a vintage Vegas taproom and counts best-selling and award-winning authors and screenwriters among its members. Other groups focus on romance, science fiction, and other genres.
Contrary to the city’s best-known slogan, what happens in Vegas often gets distributed around the world. Huntington Press, long a recognized leader in Las Vegas and gaming-related literature, will soon be adding fiction to its offerings. Joining it is new arrival Imbrifex Books, a press focused on fiction and travel literature with a connection to Las Vegas and the desert Southwest.
Megan Edwards is the author of Getting Off on Frank Sinatra. Her novel Strings: A Love Story was just released, and Full Service Blonde is coming out Nov 7. She is based in Las Vegas and founder of Living-Las-Vegas.com. For more info, visit MeganEdwards.com