Some people say the great Las Vegas novel has yet to be written. But Writers Imagine Las Vegas: Our City in Fiction, the new exhibit that recently debuted at UNLV’s Lied Library with a reading by local author Laura McBride, may just prove them wrong. With more than 100 items on display, from noir to detective novels and genre to literary fiction all set in Las Vegas, the exhibit features books from the library’s Special Collections department that date back to the 1940s. Curator Priscilla Finley hopes the exhibit will help the community remember what they love about the city and also look beyond the stereotypes previously represented in Las Vegas-based fiction.
“Las Vegas is a city that a lot of people project things on,” Finley says. “There is a difference that we noticed in novels whose authors have a lot [of] firsthand experience in the community and the books by people who were using it to contribute to a cultural critique.”
Lied Library has new exhibits twice a year to showcase the lesser-known items housed in Special Collections, which often speak to the history of Las Vegas. Although Finley wanted to exhibit books that fit into neat categories, she also aimed to highlight books that present diverse experiences. For example, High Hand and Shooter’s Point tell the story of a retired African-American showgirl who lives in the historic westside of Las Vegas.
When Finley started curating the collection last summer, she already had some ideas about what to include. Her guiding principle was thinking about what she would recommend to people when they’d ask her to suggest a book set in Las Vegas. Along with some older favorites, novels include more recent picks such as Vu Tran’s Dragonfish, Charles Bock’s Beautiful Children and McBride’s We Are Called to Rise.
When asked why she chose McBride to help introduce the exhibit, Finley said it was due to the fact that We Are Called to Rise has a hopeful message, and it sets just the right tone for this exhibit.
“The book certainly had its catastrophes and its tragedies,” Finley says. “But the focus was on how people build community. She used Las Vegas as a boomtown, where you have people from lots of different walks of life connecting with each other. She presented that as the opportunity of Las Vegas.”
Writers Imagine Las Vegas: Our City in Fiction
Through June, UNLV’s Lied Library, unlv.edu