The Story Behind Our Storytelling

In the fourth issue of Vegas Seven (Feb. 25), James Reza wrote an essay about the need to put on a storytelling session in Las Vegas. These curated but unscripted open-mike events are the rage in big cities on the West Coast, and Reza concluded that they’d be a great fit here, too—not only for us to keep up with the times culturally, but because these entertaining exercises might help us define our city’s “intangible sense of place.”

Reza’s chief source in that article—poet, performer and public defender Dayvid Figler—offered a more tangible reason as well: “If I can go to Portland [Ore.] and tell a story about Vegas and have it go over well, we should be able to do it here.”

Six months passed. Then I got a call from Richard Hooker of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs asking Vegas Seven to sponsor an event as part of this year’s Vegas Valley Book Festival. And the first thing I did after saying yes was call Figler.

In short order he pulled together an intriguing lineup of seven storytellers, including two veteran headliners—actor Michael Bunin and best-selling author Beth Lisick—and a few local first-timers, including our A&E editor, Cindi Reed. Our city’s first storytelling event, “The Tell,” will be at 9 p.m. Oct. 22 in the El Cortez’s Fiesta Ballroom. And to get you in the mood for the theme, “Cheating,” our nightlife and beverage editor, Xania Woodman, sweet-talked master mixologist Drew Levinson of the United States Bartenders’ Guild into inventing a cocktail for the occasion.

So, we hope to see you there.

Meantime, as you may have noticed, we’ve also done seven stories here, because the second thing I did after saying yes to the city was to have senior editor Greg Blake Miller dream up a version fit for print. The result is “Brushes With Greatness,” and we’re very pleased with his lineup, too:

Eric Olsen, who helped found the International Institute of Modern Letters at UNLV in 2001 along with Glenn Schaeffer. The two recently finished We Wanted to Be Writers: Lessons From the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a collection of conversations with their classmates and teachers at the Workshop, including T.C. Boyle, Jane Smiley, John Irving and Sandra Cisneros.

Alissa Nutting, a Cobain Fellow at UNLV’s Black Mountain Institute whose award-winning short-story collection, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, was recently released by Starcherone Books.

Douglas Unger, co-founder of UNLV’s MFA in Creative Writing Program and author of four novels, including Leaving the Land, a finalist for the Pultizer Prize. His most recent book is Looking for War and Other Stories.

H. Lee Barnes, a writing teacher at the College of Southern Nevada and author of several books, including Dummy Up and Deal, a nonfiction narrative about the experiences of casino dealers. His memoir of his Vietnam experience, When We Walked Above the Clouds, will be released by the University of Nebraska Press in 2011.

The other three writers—Miller, Reed and Figler—are pretty talented, too, with Figler deserving the biggest pat on the back for not only performing live and in print, but orchestrating and hosting “The Tell.” And if one person was responsible for this whole idea in the first place, that was him, too.

Check out the stories »

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