Autumn is the best time of year for Las Vegas literary fans: It’s still warm enough to read by the pool. There’s that back-to-school buzz in the air that evokes the memory of required reading lists and newly issued textbooks. And there’s the return of the two biggest literary happenings in Las Vegas: the Black Mountain Institute’s event series and the Vegas Valley Book Festival.
Of the two, the Black Mountain Institute is the more academic. But that doesn’t mean boring.
The series begins with UNLV creative writing professor and PEN/Faulkner award winner Richard Wiley (7 p.m. Sept. 24, UNLV Greenspun Hall Auditorium). Wiley will read from his controversial new novel, The Book of Important Moments (Dzanc, Sept. 10), which revolves around a rapist and his victim, allowing the rapist to tell his side of the story.
On October 15, the celebrated short story author and MacArthur Fellowship winner George Saunders will speak at UNLV. He’s a very big deal. Make sure to attend.
BMI also pairs up with the Nevada Emerging Writers Series to host novelist Justin Torres (7 p.m. Oct. 29) and poet Derek Henderson (7 p.m. Nov. 19).
In its 12th year, the Vegas Valley Book Festival has become a mammoth event that appeals to all genres of readers. It offers 165 authors, 45 panel discussions and distinct sections dedicated to children, young adults and comic books. I should know, I’m on the festival’s literary committee.
Sponsored by the book fest and in conjunction with Huntington Press, the Las Vegas Writes Project returns with a new stable of local authors exploring the theme of “Progress,” including Vegas Seven’sown Geoff Carter.
The book fest opens with a commercial author and closes with a literary one. This year, the honor goes to suspense and romance author Catherine Coulter and Pulitzer Prize finalist Luis Alberto Urrea, respectively.
Additionally, two writers in the Nevada diaspora return for the book festival.
The first is short story author Claire Vaye Watkins, who won Vegas Seven’s 2013 Best of the City award for Best Nevada Author (among several other more prestigious awards) for her 2012 short story collection Battleborn.
The other earned a doctorate in English from UNLV in 2011. It doesn’t seem so long ago that Alissa Nutting, now an assistant professor at John Carroll University in Ohio, was part of the local literary scene—wandering First Friday, giving a free fiction workshop at the book festival, packing the house for her own BMI literary event.
Her first book, a collection of short stories called Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, came out in 2010 through a small press. The short stories are dark, astringent and smart, each one bearing “job” titles such as “Bandleader’s Girlfriend,” “Model’s Assistant,” “Knife Thrower,” “Hellion” and “Alcoholic.” The book is fantastic. As is the norm with collections of literary short stories, nobody outside the book world took much notice.
The opposite can be said for her first novel, Tampa (Ecco, $18), which tells the tale of a beautiful middle school teacher who sexually pursues her students. Released in July, Tampa has already been deemed one of the most controversial books of the summer and has drawn comparisons to American Psycho. A shock to casual readers who were expecting the next 50 Shades of Gray, Tampa is a satirical work of literary fiction that questions established gender roles and dares to have an unsympathetic protagonist. See her make her former town proud at 11:15 a.m. November 2 at the Historic Fifth Street School Auditorium.