UNLV's Black Mountain Institute is a home for both new and established writers to hone their craft.
Each fall, the center welcomes a new crop of fellows who will spend the year in Southern Nevada writing, lecturing – and, probably, getting a bit of sun.
With the set of fellows for the upcoming academic year recently announced, we thought we'd check in with BMI to learn about them, and find out why they were selected.
INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS with BMI executive director Josh Shenk:
What is Black Mountain Institute's overall aim?
We’re a 10-year-old literary center headquartered at UNLV, and we bring writers and literary consciousness into the heart of public life. We do it in a variety of ways -- one of which is welcoming writers from all around the world to Las Vegas to the offices of the Black Mountain Institute to do their work and engage with the community.
What inspired you to do a fellows program?
We’re bringing about a convergence of writers and intellectuals from all over the world. It fits with our ethos. It fits with the ethos of MFA and Ph.D. program at UNLV. And it’s also very Las Vegas. This is a place of convergence. I always think of those airline maps that show the routes and there are certain cities that are all white because there are so many lines coming into it. That is literally the case with Las Vegas and McCarran Airport, but [it] also really represents the culture of this city -- there are 40 million or more visitors and people living here from all over the world. That animates our idea of what Black Mountain Institute can be.
What are you looking for in a fellow?
There are a few different programs. The origin of Black Mountain Institute is with something that is now called the City of Asylum program. We’re the first institution to do this in the United States. We offer a fellowship, an extended fellowship, for a writer who is in peril somewhere in the world, for doing his or her work.
We have a brand new fellowship supported by the Kagi Foundation for writers at the intersection of literature and medicine. And we have our debut fellow in that field. This is a huge source of excitement for us because there is a new medical school literally and metaphorically rising from the ground out of nothing.
We’re also very interested in veterans programming and the experience of veterans in Las Vegas. And our debut fellow brings all this together. He’s a guy named David Morris -- a former Marine infantry officer -- who wrote this book called the “Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” It’s the seminal book on PTSD.
The Bennett Fellows run the gamut from younger writers to older writers, foreign writers, novelists, poets …
We were going for all points of diversity: gender, racial… we even have diversity in Northern and Southern Nevada in the crop this year. This terrific young novelist named Gabriel Urza is coming. He lived in Reno, grew up in Reno [and] his interest in his Basque ancestry inspired this gorgeous book “All That Followed.”
How do you find the writers for your emerging writers’ series?
This is one of my favorite things that Black Mountain Institute does. It’s a nice thing to have as my favorite because it is actually very little work for me and my staff. There’s a committee of MFA students who choose the writers they most want to see and hear. This is an absolutely brilliant early warning system for writers who are going to break out and be the hot writer.
Do you work with local writers?
Sure! We think this is an underappreciated city for the arts. A lot of places that are associated with the creative arts are increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible. There is a cool and really interesting literary scene here that MFA and Ph.D. students at UNLV make up one core of it, but there are number of other poets and novelists and non-fiction writers, some of whom have been affiliated with UNLV in the past. A lot of them congregate around the Writer’s Block on Fremont Street. We’re very close with the Writer’s Block and do all kinds of programs with them. And [we're] very glad they’re going to be our bookseller starting in the fall.
Josh Shenk, executive director, Black Mountain Institute
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