Desert Companion

2019 Culture Guide: Literature & Ideas


Jay Sarno, Courtesy of UNLV Special Collections
Courtesy of UNLV Special Collections

A man of vast appetites, far-reaching vision, and titanic shortcomings — a gambling problem, for one — Jay Sarno had an outsize impact on Las Vegas, creating first Caesars Palace, then Circus Circus.

Family & Festivals | Music | Theater &  Dance | Literature and Ideas | Visual Arts

September 3

A Cartoonist, a Poet, and a Novelist Walk into a Multifaceted Exploration of Narrative, Place, and Identity

What better way to kick off this year’s fall literary season than with a multifaceted exploration of narrative, place, and identity by a cartoonist (Amy Kurzweil), a poet/visual artist (Vi Khi Nao), and a novelist/journalist (Ahmed Naji)? Multidimensional! Sponsored by the Black Mountain Institute, where the first two are newly minted Shearing fellows and the third is an Egyptian writer hosted by BMI’s City of Asylum program. UNLV’s Beverly Rogers Literature and Law Building room 101, 7p, free, RSVP at


Sarno? Saryes!

A man of vast appetites, far-reaching vision, and titanic shortcomings — a gambling problem, for one — Jay Sarno had an outsize impact on Las Vegas, creating first Caesars Palace, then Circus Circus. If there’s anyone you want to hear talk about Sarno in a library theater in early September, it’s David G. Schwartz, director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research, who literally wrote the book on the guy. Clark County Library, 7p, free,

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September 18

You’ve Got a Friend

Artist Tanja Hollander set out to explore the nature of friendship, virtual and real, in the FaceSnapped tweetscape of the 21st century. Her story of visiting some 600 social-media friends, as well as communities around the globe, is told in the film Are you really my friend? The Movie. Following a screening, there will be a Q&A with the artist, and director Robin Greenspun. UNLV’s Barrick Museum, 5p, free,


September 19

If Only There Were Recent Developments to Lend This Some Topical Urgency

The Constitution — just four sheets of paper, but 200 years of argument, idolatry, competing interpretations, and a classic Nic Cage caper. Even now it lies at the heart of nearly every fractious issue in America, from gun rights to land use to immigration. How this and other constitutions came about is the subject of a talk by Michael Zuckert, emeritus poli-sci professor at Notre Dame. UNLV’s Barrick Museum, 7:30p, free,


September 21

Strong Words

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” So said Robert Frost, in what seems an apt sentiment for this reading, which will be “exploring the strength of our community after October 1.” Featuring Clark County Poet Laureate Heather Lang-Cassera, plus Jennifer Battisti, Elizabeth Quiñones-Zaldaña, and Emilee Wirshing. The Writer’s Block, 5p, free,



September 23

A City in a House

Clayetee WhiteDubbed “forceful, rolling, and many-chambered” by a New York Times reviewer, Sarah M. Broom’s memoir The Yellow House uses her family’s New Orleans shotgun house as a lens through which to view the city in its pre- and post-Katrina incarnations, dwelling on race, class, inequality, and other timeless themes. Staged by The Believer, this evening will feature Broom talking with UNLV oral historian Claytee White. The Writer’s Block, 7p, free, RSVP at


September 26

If Only There Were Recent Developments to Lend This Some Topical Urgency

Angeline Sangalang, assistant professor of communication at the University of Dayton, will tell us all about “Using Stories to Combat Misinformation.” Thank goodness. Because combatting it with actual information clearly hasn’t worked. UNLV’s Barrick Museum, 7:30p, free,


October 3

You Had Me at “Iconology”

“Time is what keeps everything from happening at once,” wrote author Ray Cummings; that’s worth keeping in mind as we contemplate “Present Tense: The Iconology of Time,” this evening’s talk by W. J. T. Mitchell of the University of Chicago. It’s about how we feel about the present while reflecting on the past — are the times really a-changing? — in an attempt to figure out our place in the timestream. UNLV’s Barrick museum, 7p, free,


October 13

Strong Music

“Music and Words” is a multimedia tribute to violinist and Holocaust survivor David Arben, who made it alive through seven Nazi camps. Photos and readings from his biography will be interspersed with violin selections that emphasize tolerance, persistence, and love of life. West Charleston Library, 2p, free,


October 14

That’s the Return Ticket

Megan MerchantWelcome back, Megan Merchant! The UNLV MFA grad and winner of several awards (the 2017 Beullah Rose Poetry Prize, the 2016-2017 Cog Literary Award, and the Las Vegas Poets Prize) will be reading from her work. UNLV’s Beverly Rogers Literature and Law Building room 101, 7p, free, RSVP at


October 17

Area Writers Compile Book

Las Vegas Writes — an annual project of the Las Vegas Book Festival that anthologizes great local writers — releases its milestone 10th volume, themed to the idea of reinvention and titled A Change Is Gonna Come, with a reading and signing. (This is the first volume to include poetry.) If this event is anything like previous Las Vegas Writes book launches, there will be cookies afterward. Clark County Library, 7p, free,


October 19


Lotta stuff going on at the Las Vegas Book Festival: activities and authors for children; a vigorous poetry program; a raft of nationally known authors, and plenty of panel discussions related to subjects topical, fun, literary, and more. Confirmed authors include keynote speaker Marlon James, best-selling novelist and memoirist A.M. Homes (sponsored by the Black Mountain Institute), and more. Plus, book-signings, workshops, performances, vendors, and hordes of like-minded book-lovers. Historic Fifth Street School, 9a, free,


October 22

Off the Page

The Believer crew continues to promote new storytelling methods, in this case “a cinematic, interactive comic” detailing artist Matt Huynh’s experiences growing up among Vietnam War refugees in Australia. His style plucks inspiration from sources as disparate as Western comic books and Eastern calligraphic drawing. Presented by The Believer, whose art director, Kristen Radtke, will interview Huynh afterward.  Art Square Theatre, 7p, free, RSVP at


October 26

Reveal My Dark Side? What Is This, Twitter?

StorySlam is back, this time with local storytellers rummaging through their lives for material related to the theme “The Dark Side.” Should be endarkening. Charleston Heights Arts Center, 7p, $5 suggested donation,


October 28

Food for Thought

Dao Strom

Dao Strom courtesy of Black Mountain Institute

The Black Mountain Institute brings together Vietnamese poets, writers, and performance artists Dao Strom (pictured), Stacey Tran, and Vi Khi Nao for an evening exploring language and mythology through Vietnamese cuisine — or, as they put it, “a performance-based, sculptural Vietnamese feast made of words, food, and diaspora.” East Las Vegas Library, 7p, free, RSVP at


November 5

You Mean, Think About My Opinion Before I Post It? The Hell You Say!

If you’re curious about the place of thoughtful opinion amid the frantic churn of the Hot Take Industrial Complex, New York Times op-ed specialist Jennifer Senior is here to drop some knowledge. Hers is a vision — almost heretical these days — “of a literary punditry which joins deep thinking with old-fashioned reporting, and ample doses of time and solitude.” UNLV’s Beverly Rogers Literature and Law Building room 101, 7p, free, RSVP at


November 12

Ordinary Junk + Capsule + Time = Premise for a Chilling Lecture

Consider the humble time capsule. Filled with pop culture effluvia of the day and buried under the corner of a building, it’s a lighthearted paean to … uh, hmm, well, says here that history prof Nick Yablon, of the University of Iowa, will link the interwar vogue for time capsules to the schemes of the technocratic elite, “their eugenic goal of eliminating the ‘unfit,’” and an other-excluding nationalist vision of America. Not you, too, humble time capsule! UNLV’s Barrick Museum, 7:30p, free, unlv/edu/calendar


November 13

Ocean Vuong Would Want You to Attend

Billy RayBilly-Ray Belcourt, of the Driftpile Cree Nation, will read from his debut poetry collection This Wound Is a World, which explores indigenous life. Described as “a monument for the future of poetic possibility” by Ocean Vuong. UNLV’s Beverly Rogers Literature and Law Building room 101, 7p, free, RSVP at


November 21

If Only There Were Recent Developments to Lend This Some Topical Urgency

The burden placed on black Americans in predominantly white spaces in this country is at least twofold: to prove that they’ve transcended ghetto stereotypes, and to deal with the cognitive dissonance — sometimes manifesting as outrage — of whites unaccustomed to seeing them there. (Every week seems to bring another video of some white person calling the cops on a black person for a variation of this reasoning.) This, and related issues, will be the topic of a talk, “Black in White Space,” by Elijah Anderson, Sterling Professor of Sociology and of African American Studies, Yale University. UNLV’s Barrick Museum, 7:30p, free,


December 2

A Writer You Should Know

Dubbed a “breakout nonfiction writer,” Lindsay Nixon will read from nîtisânak, a memoir spanning nations, prairie punk scenes, and queer love stories. Nixon has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, an Indigenous Voices Literary Award, and several National Magazine Awards. UNLV’s Beverly Rogers Literature and Law Building room 101, 7p, free, RSVP at


December 5

Now for Something Completely the Same

That there’s a link between the uncertainty of borders and international stability might not seem like the freshest insight. A no-brainer, in fact. Now add the current political context and shake. Thus the up-to-the-minute relevance of “Territorial Peace: What It Is, Why It’s Important, and How to Get It,” a talk by Douglas M. Gibler, who professes political science at the University of Alabama. UNLV’s Barrick Museum, 7:30p, free,

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