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Recommended Reading: Fiction by UNLV Alumni

These Black Mountain Institute-affiliated writers have been garnering national reviews with works that pull readers in and push their boundaries.

Arts and Culture  |  Aug 31, 2015  |  By Cate Weeks
Student reads outside

(R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

Perhaps there’s been something sinister lurking on campus. Writers who’ve recently nurtured their early careers here seem to have a bent for thrilling horror and wicked humor. In the past decade, alumni from UNLV’s highly regarded graduate creative writing program have been racking up prestigious awards and reviews. The program’s success in spotting, recruiting, and nurturing young writers has been bolstered by its affiliation with the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute (BMI). Here are a few works to add to your reading list.

book coversDragonfish

W.W. Norton, 2015

Vu Tran, ’06 PhD English and a Schaeffer Fellow, is now an assistant professor in the practice of the arts at the University of Chicago. He is the recipient of 2009 Whiting Award and a 2011 finalist for the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise. In his first novel, Dragonfish, an American police officer searches in Las Vegas for his ex-wife, a Vietnamese refugee. The unraveling of her mysterious disappearance also reveals characters grappling with who they are in light of what they’ve lost: kin, country, love, morals.

Dragonfish is a strong first novel for its risk taking, for its collapsing of genre, for its elegant language and its mediation of a history that is integral to post-1960s American identity yet often ignored.” — The New York Times

“A familiar noir trope — the missing woman — blooms darkly in Dragonfish as the story of a lost people, a theme that Tran renders exquisitely, rating the book a place on the top shelf of literary thrillers.” — SFGate

book coversGoing Anywhere

Leapfrog Press, 2014

David Armstrong, a 2014 BMI PhD Fellow, is now an assistant professor of English at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. His latest stories appear in Narrative MagazineThe Magazine of Fantasy & Science FictionBest of Ohio Short Stories, and elsewhere. The short story collection Going Anywhere won the Leapfrog Fiction Contest. His second story collection, Reiterations, won the New American Fiction prize and will be published in 2016.

“It is Armstrong’s gift to weave the fantastic into the mundane in order to show us how ordinary lives are streaked with both terror and tenderness.  Even the stories that don’t explicitly wander into Twilight Zone territory are fundamentally about mystery:  how we love, why we can’t, how we continue on regardless.” — The Literary Review

"Armstrong’s characters are the mundane everymen … elevated to the heights of tragedy through careful attention to detail and voice. He’s able to inhabit the skin of everyone from a Midwestern band geek dealing with his father’s coming out to a New Yorker trying to unload his best memory of his dead wife with the help of a mysterious man." — Las Vegas Weekly

book coversYour Presence is Requested at Suvanto

Graywolf Press, 2010

Maile Chapman, ’10 PhD English and BMI Schaeffer Fellow, is now its artistic director and editor of Witness, as well as an English professor at UNLV. Her debut novel was short listed for the Guardian First Book Award and a finalist for the PEN Center USA literary award in fiction. It is set in a 1920s women’s convalescent hospital in Finland. The story’s escalating menace builds to a terrifying conclusion.

The real power here comes from the pervasive, subtle menace Chapman builds up. In Suvanto, she has created a world in which the crust of civility, like the ice of the frozen bay outside, is brittle, underlaid by darkness and on the verge of giving way.” — The New York Times

Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto is a gem; weird, vivid and acrobatic, its intricacies are sophisticated, its stance beguiling and complex. This is a writer of real power and aplomb.” — The Guardian

book coversThat’s Not A Feeling

Soho Press, 2012

Dan Josefson, 04 MFA in Creative Writing, is the winner of a 2015 Whiting Award and the recipient of a Fulbright research grant. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York. His first novel is set in a “therapeutic” boarding school and focuses on a 16-year-old who’s twice failed suicide. It was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and Booklist Editors’ Choice.

“Josefson attempts a natty narrative trick by toggling between first-person and third-person omniscient narrative modes, so that after Benjamin recounts a scene of his own he immediately switches to accounts of concurrent (and thereby unwitnessed) events, with full-access passes to every character’s psyche… Josefson’s deft, tempered prose style, however, supplies a measure of traction. It’s unornamented but never flat or blunted, so that the characters, not the sentences, heat the pages.” —The New York Times

“That's Not a Feeling is a sharp, sophisticated read, and with one book to his name Josefson has already proven himself to be a master of form. None other than David Foster Wallace described the book as a ‘funny, mordant, and deeply intelligent debut.’” — The Atlantic

 

book coversTampa

Ecco, 2013

Alissa Nutting, ’11 PhD in Creative Writing and a BMI Schaeffer Fellow, will be returning to UNLV as an English professor. Her short story collection Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls (2010) won the Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction. Her debut novel, Tampa, examines the want behind its female character’s sociopathic determination to seduce a 14-year-old student.

“Alissa Nutting’s mind-blowing debut, Tampa, is, like Nabokov’s Lolita, a story of illicit sexual obsession and corrupted innocence; its narrator a highly literate adult who preys on early adolescents. But Tampa is a slimy, sticky inversion of the classic old-man-meets-young-girl scenario…. And Nutting has announced herself as a writer who is as gifted as she is bold." — Shelf Awareness

"Alissa Nutting’s debut novel, Tampa, will give people something to talk about this summer and beyond. Though the novel’s subject matter is controversial, Tampa is also impeccably written, full of smart cultural observations, and no small amount of wit. Tampa is far bigger than the buzz, and more significant than the catchwords that will inevitably be attached to it." — The Daily Beast