Silver state stories
What’s new in Nevada literature
A visual artist, a local creative writing professor and a journalist/photographer team from the Bay Area each have a recent writing project.Rural roots
“Modest Museums” by Sarah Lillegard
Sarah Lillegard is an artist who uses natural materials and sewn pieces to explore the ways we construct mythologies about ourselves and our cultures.
Early last year, while at an artist residency in Green River, Utah, she visited the town’s John Wesley Powell River History Museum. That led to several more visits to other small-town museums in Nevada and Utah. Instead of translating her observations into visual artwork, she wrote about them in “Modest Museums,” a series of blog essays.
Lillegard said she wanted to look at “how communities represent themselves, what part of their history they cling to and shine a light on.” Would an exhibit on mining present information differently if it’s sponsored by a mining company? Docents at the Lyon County Museum in Yerington told her that one volunteer with a military history had cataloged all the military uniforms into a display.
“In that case, that history was represented because one person in particular had the information,” she said.
In some museums, Lillegard found several different combinations of “folk history, myth, connected with a little bit of truth, connected with how the community is placing itself.”
In others, she found different things to think about. The Eureka Sentinel Museum happens to be next to a thrift store. The juxtaposition led her to consider the different ways that monetary value is conferred onto objects.
“It’s funny—it makes me really believe that there is no truth,” she said, thinking about what she took away from the project. “It’s this overlap of myth, representation, stories, facts that have been backed up on numerous levels. But that overlapping is really a nice thing. … These in-between spots are really fascinating to learn about.”
She plans to keep this project going.
“There’s so many museums I keep adding to my spreadsheet, just what’s within a six-hour drive of here,” she said.
“Modest Musuems” can be read at www.modestmuseums.com.Set pieces
Wild Horse by Eric Neuenfeldt
Eric Neuenfeldt has relocated more than a few times. He’s lived in the Bay Area and Oklahoma, among other places. He’s a creative writing professor at Truckee Meadows Community College here in Reno, and this semester he’s on leave, teaching in upstate New York. Wild Horse is his collection of short stories, published in fall 2016.
“I’m not the protagonist in any of the stories,” Neuenfeldt said. But still, it’s no wonder, given the author’s tendency to roam, the characters tend to be on the restless side. There’s the dad in Susanville whose wife probably isn’t coming back. Then there’s the fledgling bike mechanic, weighing whether to commit to his new life in Berkeley as his girlfriend keeps bringing home groups of polyamorists to drink expensive Danish beer and “close-talk you in the corners of your already cramped apartment.”
Neuenfeldt’s attention lingers as closely on setting as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s lingered on people’s faces in The Great Gatsby, using the macro-level physical details to tell a lot of the story.
“I’m really interested in how characters inhabit space and their relationship to place, and how place can sort of direct decisions at times,” Neuenfeldt said. In the story that takes place in Susanville, he said, “The narrator … likes to be outside and kind of get out, especially at night, where it’s quiet, and I think that has a relationship with what he’s looking for in his life.”
Neuenfeldt is now working on his next book, a not-yet-titled novel. In this one, he said, the characters are less restless and more reflective, “more interested in where they’ve been and less interested in where they could go.”
Wild Horse can be found on amazon.com or at Sundance Books and Music.Bright spots
Maximum Sunlight by Meagan Day and Hannah Klein
In 2011, Berkeley journalist Meagan Day drove from the Bay Area to Santa Fe on a regular basis to visit her parents. On each trip, she’d pass through Tonopah.
She found the Nevada town captivating, and, for a few years, wondered what life there was like. Eventually, an old friend named Justin Carder, proprietor of a bookstore/gallery/small press in Oakland called E.M. Wolfman General Interest Small Bookstore, encouraged her to write a book. Day said Carder wanted to publish some “strange, off-beat non-fiction that didn’t fit into a normal category.”
She did her research, made several more visits to Tonopah, and recruited her girlfriend, Hannah Klein, to come along and shoot some photos.
“I just showed up to talk to people and ask what life was like,” Day said. “People took time out of their not particularly busy—usually—days and sat down to talk about what the texture of their daily existence was like. … Each time I returned, it got deeper and deeper and richer and richer.”
In 2016, the duo published Maximum Sunlight, a slim volume with Day’s texts and Klein’s pensive photos of things like mining tools, Nazi paraphernalia, the Wild Cat Brothel’s white limousine in nearby Mina, and shelves of clown figurines at the well known Clown Motel.
The first few chapters are slowly unfolding, getting-to-know-the-place reflections that lay out some history and context. Eventually, personal stories from the town’s residents begin to trickle out, then to flow freely.
One story is about “Joe”—Day gave everyone aliases—a 73-year-old bookstore owner who seldom reads books. He moved to Tonopah from California on a mission to “bring Alcoholics Anonymous to the wilderness.” Book sales are infrequent. Joe lives off his pension, hosting meetings in the back room. By his account he’s saved a few lives.
The book’s experimental structure might require some deliberate acts of patience from readers who are accustomed to knowing what kind of book they’re reading at the outset—Contemplative essays for those who already know Roland Barthes? Compassionate vignettes of life in a hardscrabble town?—but the heart and insight that Day brings out in her subjects makes it worth hanging in there until you get a feel for what she’s doing. She has a real knack for listening—and she gets pretty far into examining the truths she set out to find.
Maximum Sunlight can be found at wolfmanhomerepair.com.