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October 26, 2011
By Claudene Wharton
Acclaimed cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell has come a long way since growing up and working on Nevada's ranches, now performing internationally for audiences across the globe. But, he will be home in Nevada to be inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame next month at the annual Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Awards, 6-8 p.m., Nov. 17, at the University of Nevada, Reno's Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center. David Philip Mullins and Matthew O'Brien, two emerging writers who shed light on the darker sides of Las Vegas in their books, will receive this year's Silver Pen Awards.
Waddie Mitchell liked the cowboy life he experienced as a child with his father so much that at age 16, he quit school to follow his heart and make a living as a cowboy himself. But, cowboy life didn't include much television or radio, so Mitchell and his cowboy cohorts learned how to entertain each other, he recalled.
"When you live in close proximity like that with the same folks month after month, one of your duties is to entertain each other, and I suppose that's where the whole tradition of cowboy poetry started," he said. "You find that if you have a rhyme and a meter to start that story, people will listen to it over and over again."
Audiences are indeed listening to Mitchell again and again these days, everywhere from Melbourne to Zurich, and even at New York's Carnegie Hall. Since helping to organize the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1984 and giving his first performance, he has become something of a phenomenon.
Mitchell has appeared on The Tonight Show, Good Morning America, Larry King Live, the BBC and numerous other broadcast programs. He and his work have been featured in People, Life, USA Today, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, as well as in the official programs for Super Bowl XXX and the XIX Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Mitchell's series of recordings for Warner Bros. Records and the Western Jubilee Recording Company have also received critical acclaim. And in 2001, he was honored by a different Hall of Fame, receiving the Wrangler Award from the Cowboy Hall of Fame and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. He is also receiving the 2012 Nevada Heritage Award from the Nevada Arts Council.
In 2003, Mitchell produced Elko - A Cowboy's Gathering, a double disc that features 40 artists saluting the gathering he cofounded almost 20 years prior. Still dedicated to supporting the cowboy way of life, Mitchell founded the Working Ranch Cowboys Association in 1994 to create scholarships and crisis funds for cowboys and their families, and today the organization sanctions 22 regional rodeos throughout the West, with the world championships held each November in Amarillo, Tex.
The Silver Pen Award is the other award presented annually as part of the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame program produced by the Friends of the University of Nevada, Reno Library. While the Hall of Fame Award recognizes established writers with longevity, the Silver Pen Award recognizes emerging and mid-career writers of promise. This year, the Silver Pen will be presented to David Philip Mullins and Matthew O'Brien, two authors who have written about the less glamorous side of Las Vegas.
Mullins grew up in Las Vegas, and in his collection of linked stories, Greetings from Below, he tells stories of Nick Danze which are often edgy and raw.
ForeWord Reviews said of the book, "Mullins's impressive debut traces the pivotal moments of Nick Danze's burgeoning adult life, from his teenage sexual awakenings and his subsequent search for love to his role as helpless witness to his mother's decline....It is a remarkable thing to find a collection of quality, stand-alone stories loosely linked by theme or setting which cohere into a narrative greater than its separate parts."
The book won the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and the international Walter Scott Prize for Short Stories and Mullins' work has appeared in The Yale Review, The Massachusetts Review, Folio and other publications. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, now living with his wife and two children in Omaha, Neb., where he is assistant professor of creative writing at Creighton University.
As a former writer and editor of Las Vegas CityLife, O'Brien, this year's other Silver Pen recipient, used his reporting skills to write Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas, a 2007 book that tells of the homeless people O'Brien discovered living in the storm drains underneath the glitzy city.
Publishers Weekly said of the book, "Continually contrasting the sparkling casinos above with the dank, cobwebbed catacombs below, the observant O'Brien writes with a noirish flair, but his compassion is also evident as he illuminates the lives of these shadowy subterranean dwellers."
O'Brien has since founded Shine a Light, a community project that provides services to homeless people living in the drains. Last year, his second book, My Week at the Blue Angel, was published, a collection of stories from Las Vegas' storm drains, as well as its strip clubs, weekly motels and trailer parks. O'Brien received two Artists Fellowship grants from the Nevada Arts Council and the Outstanding Journalist Award from the Nevada Press Association's Better Newspaper Contest.
A selection committee of representatives from throughout the state chooses the inductees to the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame and the Silver Pen Award recipients. To be considered for either award, the writers must demonstrate a Nevada connection, either in their subject matter or by living in Nevada.
This is the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Awards 24th year of helping to build the literary culture of Nevada, and some past Hall of Fame inductees include Robert Laxalt, Rollan Melton and Will James. At this year's event, the reception and silent auction will begin at 6 p.m., with the program beginning at 7 p.m. The $40 ticket includes beverages and hors d'oeuvres and supports the services of the University Libraries. Complimentary parking for the event is available in the metered lot on the west side of the Knowledge Center, adjacent to the Brian Whalen Parking Complex. For more information or reservations, call the Friends of the University of Nevada, Reno Library at (775) 682-6014.
The event is sponsored by Lynn Bremer, Ed and Sharron DeBolt, Fred and Robin Holabird, KUNR Public Radio, Joan Zenan, Andrea Crowell and Mrs. Jack Crowell, Clark J. Guild, Jr. Family Foundation/Joe Guild, Bud and Suzette Hicks, Jim and Betty Hulse, Lise Mousel-Martini and John Martini, Steven Nightingale, Janice Pine and Spike Wilson, Silver Legacy Resort Casino, Arrow Vending/Kelly and Annette Bland, Tom Cook, Wes and Anne Hall, Nita Jameson, Dale and Bobbi Lazzarone/The Lazzarone Group, and Susie and Robert McQuaid.