Las Vegas may be many things to many people. But it’s fair to say we rarely are seen as a literary center.
We should be. The work done at the Black Mountain Institute, an international center for creative writers and scholars, puts us in league with some of the world’s more respected intellectual environments.
Led in recent years by Carol Harter, the Black Mountain Institute at UNLV has evolved into a premier center for the literary arts, and it complements other cultural developments in the city.
“Until the Smith Center, a few other examples and, we hope, the BMI, there hadn’t been many outlets for people who cared about the arts or literature,” said Harter, UNLV’s president from 1995 to 2006. “Our goal is to help bring additional intellectual and artistic debate to the community.”
She and her team do so in various ways, often through programs that allow the public to candidly interact with an author. Consider the recent return visit by Wole Soyinka, a former Nigerian freedom fighter who became the first African writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature. Soyinka came to Las Vegas to read from his memoirs.
Part of the organization’s mission is to serve as a sanctuary for creative writers working on books or short stories.
“We try to make one of them someone with a broad international background, either literally from another country or a person who has traveled and lived in other countries,” Harter said.
The reputation of the institute has grown to the point that its literary magazine receives hundreds of international submissions annually. Creative writing doctoral students review the submissions and determine which will be published. The institute focuses on prose, poetry and nonfiction.
Harter credits progress at the institute to Associate Director Richard Wiley, a UNLV professor, the center’s director of creative writing and himself a highly regarded novelist.
As with anything related to education, funding is a perennial issue, and Harter spends a good deal of time trying to raise money — something she became good at during her 36 years in education administration. Deep university budget cuts in recent years made her skills more crucial than ever.
“My experience just laps right over to this role,” she said.
Harter’s job also allows her to put her Ph. D. in English back to work in the classroom.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s what I think I was born to do, actually. I wouldn’t give up any of those administrative experiences — they were great — but there is much less tension in what I do now.”
Harter teaches a course on the books and short stories of William Faulkner.
Were Faulkner alive today, the Black Mountain Institute would be the sort of thing he would most certainly appreciate.