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2018 Fall Culture Guide: Literature and Ideas

Civility and Climate Change
Courtesy of UNLV's Barrick Museum

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

As the sun sets on summer, the fall cultural season is just getting started. Plan your outings with our handpicked collection of great art, music,  literature, theater, and festival events! 

September 14

Sponsor Message

Transgender Equality

“Scaling Invisible Walls” is the title of this talk by University of Wisconsin professor Markie L.C. Twist, and it suggests the reality faced by people of transgender identities — a deep and widespread unfamiliarity with their needs and practices. Understanding the prejudices inherent in cisgenderism — the belief that people’s identities should conform to the biological sex they had at birth — can help reduce discrimination, says Twist (SD) UNLV’s Barrick Museum, 7:30p, free,


September 26

If Only There Were Recent Developments to Lend This Extra Relevance

Boy, Russia, amiright?! When it’s not tampering with elections, it’s incubating violent organized crime. From the Russian mob’s origins in Stalin’s labor camps to its perch on the cutting edge of cyber crime — with plenty of blood spilled in between — author Mark Galeotti (The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia) has the whole story … including Vladimir Putin’s involvement, and the threats it poses to America. (SD) Mob Museum, 7p, $26.95 (museum admission),

September 29

Sponsor Message

The Poet Laureate Is Coming! The Poet Laureate Is Coming!

That would be Tracy K. Smith, who, in addition to being America’s boss poet, also owns a Pulitzer Prize for her collection Life on Mars. Her memoir Ordinary Light was quite acclaimed, and her newest collection is Wade In the Water. Whet your appetite for her reading with this taste of her work: We like to think of it as parallel to what we know, / Only bigger. One man against the authorities. / Or one man against a city of zombies. One man / Who is not, in fact, a man, sent to understand / The caravan of men now chasing him like red ants / Let loose down the pants of America. Presented by Poetry Promise, Black Mountain Institute, and the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District. (In addition, Smith will teach a free workshop at 12:30p at Winchester Cultural Center, 702-455-7340) (SD) West Charleston Library, 7p, free, RSVP at


October 4

Things that Go Bump in the Neon

Author Paul Papa knows where the bodies are buried — or at least where their ghosts hang out. In this lecture, the author of Haunted Las Vegas: Famous Phantoms, Creepy Casinos, and Gambling Ghosts will take listeners on a thankfully verbal tour of the city’s supernatural side. Part of the library district’s “Las Vegas Stories” series. (SD) Clark County Library, 7p, free,


Sponsor Message

October 20


This year’s Las Vegas Book Festival doesn’t stint on the big names: Pulitzer winner  Colson Whitehead,  author of The Underground Railroad, will keynote. Also on hand: Sara Shepard (Pretty Little Liars, The Lying Game) and Luis Rodriguez, onetime poet laureate of Los Angeles and author of Always Running: La Vida Loca — Gang Days in L.A. A major discussion of Afrofuturism will include Marvel Comics author Nnedi Okorafor. A tribute to UNLV professor Douglas Unger by former students will include beloved Lincoln in the Bardo author George Saunders, Muslim-Pakistani writer Sorayya Khan, Vu Tran, Maile Chapman, and more. Rising star Hanif Abdurraqib will read poetry and anchor a panel on pop culture and politics; Battleborn author and former Pahrumpian Claire Vaye Watkins will highlight a discussion of writing about place, and other talks will be devoted to biographies of casino moguls, immigration, historical fiction, mysteries, sci-fi, and romance. There’ll be poetry galore, too. On top of which there will be robust programming for kids and young adults. Something, that is, for everyone. (SD) Historic Fifth Street School, 9a-6p  free,


November 14

A Moth So Impressive It Might Attract Godzilla

You know The Moth as one of the nation’s premier storytelling series — but primarily as The Moth, a radio show on (plug) KNPR 88.9, airing Saturdays at 7p, Sundays at 3p. The Moth live show has never been attracted to Las Vegas … until now. Black Mountain Institute, The Believer, and Nevada Public Radio host a quintet of storytellers who’ll share true stories in a dynamic production. (SD) UNLV’s Ham Hall,
7p , $15,


November 17-18

Beyond Dreamcatchers

Get past the clichés of pop-culturized Native Americana with Ann Vannoy and Cree medicine man Sean Wei Mah as they offer stories and songs from America’s vibrant indigenous cultures. Sean will talk about becoming a medicine man; you’ll learn about “walking in balance” with nature and the meanings of spirit animals, and listen to authentic songs. (SD) 2p, November 17 (at Centennial Hills Library) and 18 (Summerlin Library), free,


November 30

Everyone Shouts About the Weather …

That Lauren Cagle, assistant professor of writing, rhetoric, and digital studies at the University of Kentucky, has set herself a difficult task in this lecture is evident from its title: “Civility and Climate Change.” Given the stakes of the debate (the fate of humans on Earth), and the less-than-admirable aspects of human nature it brings out in us (our retreat to tribalism; our tendency to think two monologues equals dialogue; our instinct to avoid thinking of future consequences), it takes a lot of moxie to try to introduce an element of civility into things. Wishing you luck, professor Cagle! (SD) UNLV’s Barrick Museum, 7:30p, free,



December 4

You Had Us at Claire and Derek

Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Battleborn and Gold Fame Citrus, who already had deep roots in Southern Nevada — she’s received a Silver Pen award from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame, and with her husband directs a creative-writing workshop for teens in Pahrump — deepens them this fall as a fellow at Black Mountain Institute. Her husband, novelist Derek Palacio, is also a fellow. They’ll wrap up their stay at BMI with a reading and conversation at The Writer’s Block. Gonna be righteous. (SD) The Writer’s Block, 7p, free, RSVP at


September 6

Sequin the Truth

The showgirl, that ubiquitous figure of Vegas glam, of fizzy sexuality in a plumed headdress, wasn’t born in Vegas. She has a history that reaches back to France and Great Britain, says journalist Lissa Townsend Rodgers (a frequent Desert Companion contributor), who will explore the past, present, and future of the showgirl in this “Las Vegas Stories” talk. These days, the showgirl is more often seen on the arm of Oscar Goodman at ceremonial events than on a Strip stage, but her power as an icon endures. Come learn why. (SD) Clark County Library, 7p, free,


September 12

You Had Us at Old Testament + Casinos

“Visionary” is a word used more than once in relation to poet Andrew Nicholson’s collection A Lamp Brighter than Foxfire. No wonder. Listen to this: “Central to this collection are poems that retell stories of Jacob from the Old Testament, relocated behind casinos, glimpsed in miniature on kitchen floors, and heard speaking in a moment of decay.” Toggling between the everyday and the divine — sorta what poetry is made for. Reading sponsored by Black Mountain Institute and UNLV’s English department. (SD) UNLV’s Beverly Rogers Literature and Law Building, 7p, free,


September 15

The Only Time We’ll Use the Word ‘Pard’ in This Issue

Now a quaint(ish) high-desert hamlet, Pioche’s more glorious past as a mining town is the subject of Karen Wilkes’ talk, based on her book Trampin’ In, Pard? Nevada Miners Then and Now. Her grandpa was a miner, so she knows her stuff. (SD) Sahara West Library, 1p, free,


September 17

Writers Gonna Talk

 The Believer magazine has a print history of writers talking to writers. Now that The Believer is part of the Black Mountain Institute, that dynamic leaps from page to stage in a new series of live conversations. First up: R.O. Kwon talks about her rave-winning debut novel, The Incendiaries, with BMI fellow and novelist Derek Palacio, who has his own novel, The Mortifications, recently out. (SD) The Writer’s Block, 7p, free, RSVP at blackmountain


September 23

You Can’t Stop Lee Mallory, You Can Only Hope to Contain Him

 The indefatigable Mallory, known far and wide as “the love poet,” gathers his amen corner, consisting of musicians Philena Carter and Mizz Absurd, for a disquisition on love and pain in the original home of Ass Juice, the Double Down Saloon. Can there be a better setting for a poetry event? (SD) Double Down Saloon, 8p, free,


September 26

Hey, That Mushroom Cloud Matches My Drapes

 Of all the questions that might attend a nuclear kaboom, here’s one we’ve never thought of: What color is an atomic blast? But that’s why we’re not artist Eric LoPresti, who will bust out a lecture titled “A Brilliant Violet Flash: Color Lessons From Nuclear Weapons Tests.” What’s it about? Well, says here, it’s about “how thinking about color vision can change our understanding of nuclear weapons.” There you go. (SD) UNLV’s Barrick Museum, 7:30p,

 October 2-6

Historias en Dos Idiomas

 It’s Hispanic Heritage Month, so expand your cultural horizons with captivating bilingual storyteller Liz Mangual. Look for her at the Clark County, West Las Vegas, West Charleston, Sunrise, Centennial Hills, and Summerlin libraries. (SD) various times, free,


October 18

You Had Me (Literally Me) at Desert Companion Deputy Editor

 The annual Las Vegas Writes anthology showcasing local authors — a project of the Las Vegas Book Festival, funded by Nevada Humanities and published by Huntington Press — jolts to life with this launch event. Titled Live Through This, its stories and essays tackle the theme of “unnatural disasters” with predictably unpredictable results, ranging from war to murder to family trauma to nuclear anxiety to (shudder) chess. Disclosure: The book was co-edited by this mag’s deputy editor Scott Dickensheets, whose initials are right here • (SD) Clark County Library, 7p, free,


October 27

You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next!

 “Wrong turn” is the theme of this iteration of StorySlam, which sees Las Vegans take the stage to tell true stories of their bad decisions, ill-considered paths, and unforeseen consequences. Since we’ve all made mistakes, here’s your chance to get a kick out of someone else’s bad judgment for once. (SD) Charleston Heights Arts Center, 7p, “pay what you wish” (really, that’s what it says!),


November 1

Hear the Talk Without Walking the Walk

 Richard Hooker is a “cultural urbanist,” and before you ask, “What’s a cultural urbanist?,” we’ll tell you: He leads walking tours of groovy places like Downtown Las Vegas, telling people about the history, mythology, pop culture, and characters of the area. Tonight, he adapts his tour into a slideshow-powered lecture, certain to be enlightening. (SD) Clark County Library, 7p, free,


November 5

The Gayest Gay Who Ever Gayed

 That’s poet J. Jennifer Espinoza describing herself, which gives you some idea of the candid nature of her poems about love, anger, and beauty. Go ahead, bump a few lines of her poem “Sometimes in a Moment of Déjà Vu”: Do you care that the world is trash? / I do. I’m trash. / I’m in love with the feeling of it. This Breakout Poet event is sponsored by Black Mountain Institute. (SD) UNLV’s Barrick Museum, 7p, free, RSVP at


November 14

If Only There Were Recent Developments to Lend This Extra Relevance

 That data has a dark side comes as no surprise, but this lecture presents an opportunity to drill down into a perhaps surprising permutation of that truth: how social inequity is nurtured by our reliance on seemingly objective algorithms. Tell ’em SkyNet sent you. (SD) UNLV’s Barrick Museum, 7:30p, free,


November 29

Double the Poets, Double the Fun

A fall richly textured with superior poetry events concludes with a real wowser: Two-time U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey discusses her work with Clark County Poet Laureate Vogue Robinson. Presented by The Believer. (SD) The Writer’s Block, 7p, free, RSVP at


Scott Dickensheets is a Las Vegas writer and editor whose trenchant observations about local culture have graced the pages of publications nationwide.
As a longtime journalist in Southern Nevada, native Las Vegan Andrew Kiraly has served as a reporter covering topics as diverse as health, sports, politics, the gaming industry and conservation. He joined Desert Companion in 2010, where he has helped steward the magazine to become a vibrant monthly publication that has won numerous honors for its journalism, photography and design, including several Maggie Awards.
Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.
Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.