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Author Walter Kirn On Obscure, Late Night Las Vegas

For the past year, essayist and author Walter Kirn has called Las Vegas home.

The author of acclaimed works like "Up in the Air" -- which was made into a movie starring George Clooney -- and "Blood Will Out," about the impostor Clark Rockefeller, has been a fellow at UNLV's Black Mountain Institute since the fall.

He's used his time in southern Nevada to do some writing, some exploring, and some thinking. Kirn shared those thoughts with KNPR's State of Nevada - gleaning insight into what someone who calls both Montana and Los Angeles home thinks of late-night, obscure Las Vegas.

"Las Vegas is kind of an intensification of things that happen all over the country," Kirn said. "You can learn a lot about the greater, wider world by living in Las Vegas." 

It may come as a shock to his writer cohorts: Kirn said many looked at him funny when he told him about Las Vegas, a place not typically renowned for its literary community.

"Whether they look at me funny or not, I know that it's a city of stories -- it's a city of high contrast, it's a city of sometimes painful contrasts," Kirn said. 

Kirn got to see those contrasts firsthand -- he would gather late night observations from driving around the city with nothing better to do than look out the window. 

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"In Las Vegas, you just look out the window of your car and you just see people, places and scenes that you just couldn't make up," Kirn said. 

And it wasn't all pretty. Kirn witnessed a city that has a lot of hardship challenges. 

"Away from the glitter, I was at first taken aback by the difficult lives I saw being led on the street," Kirn said. 

But what also got him through those long nights? The food, of course. 

"On a real basic, human level, the food kept me going there," he said. "I was sampling little dives all over the place."

For all the glitz, glam and the gritty, Kirn said the place distinctly retains its identity as a city in the wild west, with a dedicated community of people who are trying to culturize and expand the city's offerings.   

The Black Mountain Institute fellow will return to Las Vegas next winter. 

(Editor's Note: This interview originally aired July 2016)

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Walter Kirn, author

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