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Black Mountain Institute is New Home of The Believer Magazine

The Believer, one of the world's leading journals of arts and culture, is a five-time finalist for the National Magazine Award; publication part of BMI mission to connect writers, and literary imagination, to public life.
Arts and Culture  |  Mar 30, 2017  |  By UNLV Media Relations
Media Contact: Summer Smith (718) 614-5205;
Several covers of Believer magazine

The Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute, an international literary center at UNLV, announced today that it will become the new home of The Believer, one of the world’s leading journals of arts and culture.

Founded by the writers Heidi Julavits, Vendela Vida, and Ed Park in 2003, The Believer is a five-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, with contributors ranging from literary luminaries such as Hilton Als, Anne Carson, Nick Hornby, Susan Straight, and William T. Vollmann to emerging talents for whom the magazine has been a proving ground, including Eula Biss, Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Leslie Jamison, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Kent Russell, and Rivka Galchen.

The Black Mountain Institute formed in 2006 and recently received a $30 million pledge from its board member Beverly Rogers, among the top gifts in history to a literary institution. BMI’s executive director and writer-in-residence, essayist Joshua Wolf Shenk, will edit The Believer, which will be based in Las Vegas and be central to BMI’s public programs. Kellen Braddock, BMI’s deputy director, will serve as publisher.

“BMI’s mission is to connect writers, and the literary imagination, to public life,” Shenk said. “The Believer’s ethos is beautifully resonant with what we do. It’s a rare magazine that combines a truly literary sensibility with a deep enthusiasm for, curiosity about, and commitment to our shared experience, especially for the books and culture our lives revolve around. We’re thrilled to carry on its brilliant work.”

Shenk said that co-founders Vendela Vida and Heidi Julavits will serve as consultants to the magazine. (Ed Park moved on from The Believer in 2011.)

“BMI is a perfect home for The Believer,” Vida said. “They have such a strong commitment to rigorous writing about the arts and the world, and their social justice ethos was very important to us. All that, and the incomparable Josh Shenk, made this an easy decision to make.”

"I feel like a parent helping her child pack her suitcase so that she can start her freshman year at her first-choice university,” Julavits added. “The merger with BMI feels like the most exciting, and most-opportunity-filled, next step in The Believer’s very long life, which is obviously still in its young adult stages. I cannot wait to see what the magazine, as it continues to meet the journalistic challenges of the coming decades, will become."

Since its founding, The Believer has been published by McSweeney’s, the independent press founded in 1998 by Dave Eggers. McSweeney's will be involved in projects with BMI, including the City of Asylum program for writers-in-refuge.

Shenk said a number of strategic partnerships would support The Believer, including a collaboration with The Economic Hardship Reporting Project, founded by Barbara Ehrenreich. BMI’s public programs, Shenk said, would essentially be an additional partnership, as live interviews on-stage lead to print features in the magazine, and original Believer pieces are debuted before live audiences at BMI events. 

“The goal is to make The Believer central to everything we do, including residential fellowships,” Shenk said, adding that a new track for literary non-fiction at UNLV’s prestigious creative writing international program, with full funding for 18 MFA and Ph.D. students, would also be entwined with The Believer. “It may seem audacious, but we want to make Las Vegas the best place in the world to be a young non-fiction writer,” he said.

On April 21-22, BMI and The Believer will host American Dreams, a two-day festival held across four venues including Red Rock National Conservation Area and downtown Las Vegas. Featuring a cast of literary all-stars, the festival’s varied events will offer prayers for the American Dream – then put it on trial. There’s also a sex & rock ‘n’ roll division and a closing party with elegies and love songs. All events are free and open to the public, but require reservations.

The Black Mountain Institute  

Since its founding in 2006 by a circle of writers, including Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, and UNLV leaders, including president emerita Carol Harter, BMI has quietly established itself as a force in the literary field. It created the first-ever City of Asylum program for writers-in-refuge, which now partners with its sister program in Pittsburgh, as well as with PEN Center USA in Los Angeles. BMI also publishes the literary journals Interim and Witness and hosts fellowships for distinguished writers, as well as public programs featuring the likes of Maggie Nelson, Michael Chabon, Jamaica Kincaid, Junot Diaz, George Saunders and Gary Snyder. In partnership with Archipelago books, BMI helped bring Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle into English language publication.

BMI is a division of UNLV’s College of Liberal Arts, where it collaborates with prestigious graduate programs in creative writing, whose recent alumni include Vu Tran in fiction and Oliva Clare in poetry. A new track in literary non-fiction will receive its first students in the fall of 2018.

In 2014, BMI received a $30 million pledge from the late James E. “Jim” Rogers, a Las Vegas attorney and media entrepreneur, and Beverly Rogers, a book collector and education activist. Beverly Rogers sits on BMI’s board and is chair of The Rogers Foundation, whose mission, she said, “is to transform lives through arts and education.” “Partnerships and collaborations forged through the acquisition of The Believer extend BMI’s reach and embody that transformative power,” she said. “We couldn’t be more proud to support this undertaking.”

The Believer Magazine

Long published in San Francisco, The Believer was created by Julavits, Park, and Vida who planned, as the first issue declared, to "focus on writers and books we like" with a nod to "the concept of the inherent Good."[2]  The critic Peter Carlson described the magazine’s signature essay style as "highbrow but delightfully bizarre” and A.O. Scott described the magazine as part of "a generational struggle against laziness and cynicism, to raise once again the banners of creative enthusiasm and intellectual engagement," noting its "cosmopolitan frame of reference and an eclectic internationalism," mixing pop genres with literary theory.

The Believer long featured cover illustrations by the graphic artist Charles Burns, with playful touches, including one with cut-outs opening onto a page of temporary tattoos. The play has extended inside the magazine, with pieces by humorists including Jack Pendarvis and Amy Sedaris, longtime columnists. Nick Hornby and Daniel Handler write ongoing columns. The magazine has also published conversations between writers (such as Ian McEwan talking with Zadie Smith), between musicians (Carrie Brownstein talking with Eddie Vedder), and with philosophers ranging from Judith Butler to Daniel Dennett.

Media are asked to contact Summer Smith to request an interview with Joshua Shenk, Vendela Vida, and/or Heidi Julavits.