Las Vegas literary scene growing

Las Vegas is known more for pornography than poetry.

While some may think porn is poetic, it hardly ranks on a literary scale. And until recently, neither did Las Vegas.

But local emerging writers, established authors, well-respected university programs and a handful of literary journals have all done much to raise the valley’s profile, giving it a certain gravitas in the literary world that it might not have developed, otherwise.

“A lot of people have been working for years to build up the city’s literary reputation,” says Claudia Keelan, a local award-winning poet. “I think if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, it’s going to eventually be like the literary arts in any major city.”

Keelan has taught in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ creative writing program for the past 12 years. She recently completed a four-year run as the program’s director.

In existence since the mid-1990s, the program, which offers a master’s of fine arts degree in creative writing or poetry, has become among the most prominent in its field in the country and has produced award-winning writers and poets, she says.

She gives credit not only to students and instructors in the program for helping to lay a solid foundation for the creation and promotion of the written word, but also to residents who support the programs, attend literary events and continually ask for more.

When Richard Wiley, one of the founders of the master’s of fine arts program, moved to Las Vegas in 1989, he had the same impressions about the town’s literary reputation as anyone else.

“It was thought that nobody really lives here. There was no sense of literary awareness,” says Wiley, who is now associate director for the Black Mountain Institute, an international literary center founded in 2006. The institute provides fellowships to writers and hosts prominent authors who give readings and lectures on a regular basis.

The institute awards three to five annual fellowships of $50,000 each, giving recipients a place to work and the means to focus on their writing, Wiley says. Robert Rosenberg, Mary Palevsky and Luljeta Lleshanaku are current fellows.

But others are working at a grass-roots level to create a community that values the written word.

Book clubs, writers’ groups, poetry slams and a strong library system have emerged over the years, giving local readers and writers a place to bond with like-minded people.

The level of community involvement has increased in recent years, says Felicia Campbell, UNLV English professor and popular culture expert.

There seems to be more people, from schoolteachers to bikers, who are interested in writing, whether it’s memoirs, general fiction, science fiction or mysteries, she says. A few months ago, Campbell gave a lecture to a local writers’ group and she was impressed with the turnout.

“There are lots of things going on” in Las Vegas’ literary world, says Campbell, who belongs to a private book club in Summerlin.

The library district offers book clubs as well as frequent readings from visiting authors, such as Amy Tan, Alexander McCall Smith and Armistead Maupin.

Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at or 702-380-4564.

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