Bring up our city’s book festival enough, and you’re bound to hear some smartass respond with somesuch dismissal like, “Nobody reads in Las Vegas,” or, “Our lit scene sucks.” Your obvious rejoinder: “Why do you lie?”
Plenty of people read in Las Vegas, and our non-sucking literary landscape boasts the numerous intellectual treasures of UNLV’s Black Mountain Institute, several retail operations for book shopping (including the expanding Writer’s Block), the underrated Las Vegas-Clark County Library District and, yes, the Las Vegas Book Festival. Besides the latter’s zero-point-zero-zero admission price, here are seven reasons you should check it out, regardless of your level of lettered enthusiasm.
LISTEN This year’s edition boasts three no-joke keynote speakers, chief among them lit wunderkind Colson Whitehead, whose last novel, 2016’s The Underground Railroad, won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Also talking: the frequently adapted-for-TV Sara Shepard (Pretty Little Liars) and former LA poet laureate Luis Rodriguez (Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in LA).
DISCUSS You get the chance to talk, too—there are more than 15 discussion panels rife for your thoughtful partaking, including numerous symposiums on genre fiction (for adults young and not-young) and local interest powwows addressing diverse topics such as Vegas moguls and sports journalism.
SING ALONG Yes, the Book Festival has a soundtrack. The Discovery Tent will be devoted to performing musicians, like singer/songwriter Lisa Loeb (1994’s “Stay (I Missed You)”) and kiddie fave Zak Morgan (“Brobdingnagian Banana Blues”).
SUPPORT YER LOCALS Las Vegas literati abounds at the fest, as well it should. A post-lunch program inside the main auditorium celebrates UNLV professor, author and literary activist Douglas Unger; The Believer managing editor Daniel Gumbiner talks about his just-out acclaimed debut novel, The Boatbuilder; and scheduled poets include Clark County poet laureate Vogue Robinson, Metro captain Harry Fagel and expat Gregory Crosby.
WORKSHOP Your participation shouldn’t be limited to passive reception. Conference Room 140 will focus mostly on seminars designed to instruct, motivate and prompt its audiences, including two poetry workshops—one for budding lyricists and another for families looking to bond over the creation of verses.
TAKE YOUR KIDS Beyond music hour(s), there’s plenty to busy your rugrats, including various activities, the Imagination Tent for readings and the Engaged Tent for illustration demos—the latter featuring renowned children’s book artists Raúl Colón (whose work will also be on display at the school’s Mayor’s Gallery).
BUY BOOKS Immersing yourself in an urban textual wonderland and not going home with an armful of books is like spending the day at Disneyland and ignoring the gift shops on the way out—it’s like you didn’t even go. It’s also futile, so patronize the various vendors and merchandise tables throughout the festival footprint, support the speakers’ written output—and prove those cynical of Las Vegas’ literacy wrong.
LAS VEGAS BOOK FESTIVAL October 20, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., free. Historic Fifth Street School, vegasvalley bookfestival.org.