The write environment
Writers' Wednesday Series showcases Nevada authors
We writers are a solitary bunch. We sit alone for long periods of time, cranking out words that we send off into the ether and hope they will mean something to someone. Yes, editors and publishers—and perhaps even the occasional reader—will give us a bit of feedback, but mostly we work inside a bubble. It’s hard to know just how the work will be received by the public, or even who that elusive public is.
When Catherine Magee came on board as director of the Nevada Historical Society in June 2016, she noticed that the NHS also was in its own sort of bubble.
“Around here, we like to say we’re hidden in plain sight,” Magee said. “A lot of people don’t know about us. They just see us on the University of Nevada, Reno campus and think we’re another UNR office building.”
But one of the things folks did seem to realize was that the NHS Museum Store contains an excellent collection of books about Nevada and the Great Basin. Occasionally, authors would come give talks about their work, but not with any regularity. Certainly writers needed a greater connection to their readers, just as NHS needed another way to reach visitors?
“I thought, ’Wouldn’t it be great to highlight writers who write on Nevada history?’” Magee said. “I thought that if we started an evening lecture series, it would allow people who can’t come to events during the day to get a great opportunity to learn about Nevada history and what people are writing about, and to do it after work.”
Thus, in November 2016, the Writers’ Wednesday lecture series was born.
Monthly meeting of the minds
At that first event a year ago, attorney, historian and author Patty Cafferata spoke about her new holiday-themed book, Christmas in Nevada, which was published by the University of Nevada Press and features stories about how Nevadans from 1858 to the present have celebrated Christmas.
Magee said the timing of Cafferata’s release made her a natural choice for kicking off the holiday season, but since then authors have been selected and booked based on a combination of factors.
“Some authors fit a theme for that month—maybe a holiday or event,” Magee explained. “But we also get contacted by book distributors. For instance, our [October] author, Will Furman, wrote a book called Bodie: Good Times and Bad, and the publisher called us to let us know it was coming out and asked if we wanted to host a lecture. And sometimes the author hears about the series and contacts us to propose a book.”
There’s no restriction on publisher—some books have come from the University of Nevada Press, but it’s not a requirement, and some authors have even self-published. The only requirement is that the content deal with Nevada, the Great Basin or the West.
Past presenters have included David Antonucci, author of Snowball’s Chance: The Story of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games, Squaw Valley & Lake Tahoe; Lynn Downey, retired historian from the Levi Strauss & Co., and author of Levi Strauss: The Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World; David Lowndes, one of NHS’s own researchers and author of Reno’s Heyday: 1931–1991; Robin Flinchum, who wrote Red Light Women of Death Valley and spoke about the mysterious murder of Virginia City prostitute Julia Bulette; and Stanley Paher, a local publisher and author of several books about Nevada history, spoke about how to break into publishing.
This month, attendees will hear from former Nevada Treasurer Kate Marshall, who co-wrote Nevada’s Great Recession with her husband, UNR associate dean and economics professor Elliott Parker.
Published just this August by the University of Nevada Press, the book is a compilation of articles written during the Great Recession, primarily by Parker himself, which provide a blow by blow of the recession as it unfolded here in the Silver State.
“It takes a look at why Nevada was affected more than other states, why it hit us harder and what effects it had on business, housing, wages and so forth,” Marshall said.
The book also examines how the state can mitigate the effects of another recession, to see that we don’t sustain the same level of damage. Marshall said she also wrote several vignettes portraying what she saw behind the scenes while working in the state treasurer’s office during that time.
“It’s not really a kiss-and-tell book—it’s more just a reflection on what I was experiencing at the time and what happened that people didn’t really see, for example, what did I do when the state didn’t have enough money to pay its bills,” Marshall said.
Though Parker will be on the road and unable to attend, Marshall will provide attendees at the Writers’ Wednesday talk with a little background on the book’s development, then read a few passages, which she said are “more personal in style, and not just dry economic text.” Then she’ll take questions about the book, about where she and Parker feel Nevada is today financially and what they feel can be done to make Nevada more resilient. The book is available on Amazon and at the University of Nevada Press website.
Marshall hopes to see the Writers’ Wednesday series grow.
“I mean, to be able to connect to people who are really interested in what’s going on in Nevada is wonderful,” she said. “It’s really something that should be promoted and celebrated.”
Presenting authors are invited to bring books to sell. Talks are free to NHS members and $5 for non-members.
At press time, the NHS had not announced its roster of speakers beyond November, but Magee suggests following the NHS on Facebook and watching its website, nvhistoricalsociety.org, for news about upcoming lectures. She looks forward to expanding the event to include new genres, too, and indicated that while the lectures have, up to this point, featured authors of nonfiction books, she’s open to other ideas, including fiction and journalism.
“One thing we’re exploring is people who write fiction based in Nevada,” she said. “There’s going to be a mystery writers’ convention here”—Left Coast Crime 2018, coming in March—“that focuses on mystery writers in the West, so we’re working to see if some of the participants can come give a lecture.”
Supporting local authors, making connections between writers and readers, and sharing the history of and love for Nevada are all goals, Magee said.
“I think it’s nice to meet the author,” she said. “A lot of times people are disconnected from writers, and I think it’s important to realize these people may be talking about the writing process and things you wouldn’t get otherwise, those little bits of information that add to your understanding.”