Because there is still plenty of time left in the summer to cram in some good reads, staff at UNLV’s Black Mountain Institute have compiled their favorite recent reads. The institute is focused on the power of the literary arts. It brings writers and scholars from around the world to Las Vegas to foster dialog on contemporary issues. It also supports the work of emerging writers though fellowships.
“I recommend everyone spend the rest of summer reading or rereading Hannah Arendt’s 1973 The Origins of Totalitarianism, for obvious reasons.” — Kristen Radkte, art director and deputy publisher, The Believer
“In Dancing Backup, Carina del Valle Schorske artfully draws a lineage of Puerto Rican backup dancers in American entertainment from Rita Moreno to JLo. –Niela Orr, the Eleanor Kagi Writer-in-Residence, BMI and interviews co-editor for The Believer
“Like many of us this summer, I've been consumed by stories of our southern border. In an episode of The NYer Radio Hour, Valeria Luiselli traveled to Arizona and New Mexico to explore how the stories we tell about the old West shape our perception of the border–how the legends, the reenactments clash with reality. In a piece in the NYTimes Magazine, Teju Cole confronts that same reality through the widely-circulated image of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria. — Lille Allen, program and communications coordinator
“This summer, UK publisher Comma Press — with the support of the PEN Translates program — published The Book of Cairo: A City in Short Fiction comprised of ten short stories set in Cairo. One of the vignettes is "Siniora" written by BMI City of Asylum Fellow Ahmed Naji, translation by Elisabeth Jaquette. The remaining nine stories — also by Egyptian writers — provide snapshots of life in Cairo ‘at a time when writing directly about Egypt’s greatest challenges is often too dangerous.’" — Sara Ortiz, program manager
“All year I've been telling people about BMI Shearing Fellow Vi Khi Nao's Sheep Machine, a second-by-second experimental response to a piece of video art with the same title, starring sheep. "What would you like to see?," Nao's text asks at minute 01:06. Poet Rainer Maria Rilke and Jedi Master Yoda make appearances, as do beguiling artist M.C. Escher and the Buddha. The camera always comes back to the sheep, who eat, stand around, and lead this poet and her reader into the most unexpected visions.” — Michael Ursell, manager of development and strategic partnerships
“My faves this summer so far have included Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, a stellar meditation on how to engage with presence and imagination, and a biting exegesis and critique of what she calls ‘the attention economy.’ This is definitely a book for the time. I also read two memoirs-of-a-kind by the French writer Emmanuel Carrère, who the NYT says ‘re-invented non-fiction.’ Certainly, his books feel totally original in form and voice, and are influencing me now. The ones I read, and they speak to each other in ways that are evident in the text, are Lives Other than My Own and My Life as a Russian Novel. — Joshua Shenk, executive and artistic director
“Written as a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous tells the story of Little Dog, the son of Vietnamese immigrant parents in the U.S. Ocean Vuong offers a strikingly honest exploration of race, class, queerness, and masculinity. Themes of violence, addiction, and survival are on display in this work of autofiction, rendered with compassion and potent imagery.” — Summer Thomad, program aide
Bonus: Mark your calendars for Sept. 3, when the Black Mountain Institute presents “Beyond Words” featuring comics artist Amy Kurzweil; poet and visual artist Vi Khi Nao; and City of Asylum fellow Ahmed Naji. This book trailer for Kurzweil’s Flying Couch speaks for itself.