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October 28, 2009
By Claudene Wharton
Nevada author H Lee Barnes has proved the old adage, “Write about what you know,” to be sage advice. The award-winning author whose work often provides a gritty look into the lives of working-class characters of the Southwest and the tribulations of war veterans will be inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame 6 – 8 p.m., Nov. 12 at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center.
Barnes began writing “cop stories” in the ‘70s, using his background as a deputy sheriff in Las Vegas and a narcotics agent in Reno for his material. But, it is his writing drawn from his experiences in the U.S. Army’s Special Forces in Vietnam and his time spent with the people of Las Vegas and the Southwest that has drawn Barnes the most critical acclaim.
Barnes waited a long time after his experiences in Vietnam before writing Gunning for Ho, a collection of short stories published in 2000 by University of Nevada Press that was a finalist for the Texas Institute of Letters First Fiction Award. The stories are set in Vietnam and its aftermath, but focus more on the relationships and emotions of the soldiers than the battles themselves.
Three years later, Barnes’ novel The Lucky was published, which also drew on his experiences in Vietnam, as well as life in Las Vegas in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Also published by University of Nevada Press, The Lucky was a finalist for the Western Writers of America Fiction Award.
Barnes, who moved to Las Vegas in 1966 after being discharged from the Army, also wrote Dummy Up and Deal, drawn from his experiences in Vegas casinos; Talk to Me, James Dean; and most recently, Minimal Damage, Stories of Veterans. He has been working on the prequel to The Lucky for eight years, but his teaching at the Community College of Southern Nevada has kept him too busy to finish it. “I just haven’t had that summer off I need to complete it,” he said, adding that he enjoys teaching very much.
On Nov. 12, Barnes will share the spotlight with a group of writers who wrote about life in Nevada 150 years ago. “The Sagebrush School,” which refers to a group of writers in the Virginia City area during the time of the Comstock Lode, will be the second 2009 inductee into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame.
Besides Mark Twain, this famous group of writers, who were primarily journalists, also includes Dan De Quille, Alfred Doten, Samuel Post Davis, Joseph Thompson Goodman, Rollin Mallory Daggett and others. Lawrence Berkove, a literary scholar from the University of Michigan, Dearborn known for his research on the Sagebrush School, says the writers are noted for their “fascination with hoaxes, delight in wit, audacity and an irreverent attitude towards inflated authority and outworn tradition.”
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 experience and longevity, the Silver Pen Award recognizes emerging and mid-career writers of promise. This year, the Silver Pen will be presented to Charles Bock and Robert Leonard Reid.
Bock, like Barnes, drew on his experiences in Las Vegas for his inspiration. Bock was born and raised in Las Vegas, which serves as the setting for his first book, Beautiful Children. The book exposes the lost and confused state of humanity, and burst on the scene last year as a New York Times Best Seller. Bock also received the 2009 Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for Beautiful Children.
In addition, Bock ghost-edited Shaquille O’Neal’s autobiography, Shaq Talks Back, and has worked as a researcher, a legal proofreader and an instructor of fiction at the Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City. Bock moved to New York City shortly after turning 18 and resides there today.
While Bock drew his inspiration from city and suburban life in Las Vegas, Reid is perhaps most recognized for his writings inspired by treks through America’s wilderness and climbs to its highest peaks. In his latest work, Arctic Circle, Bock journeys to northern Alaska and the Yukon. Every year, caribou from the Yukon and Alaska set off in early April to a small corner of Alaska to give birth to their young. It is the longest migration of any land animal on earth. Reid chronicles this challenging journey, shedding historical and ecological light along the way.
Reid’s other significant works include Mountains of the Great Blue Dream, a glimpse into the spiritual aspects of mountain-climbing, and America, New Mexico, which, in a different vein, looks at a host of problems plaguing New Mexicans and Americans, from gangs and guns to censorship and racism.
Reid settled in Carson City in 1995, where his first work for the theater, I Say Nevada, sold out to audiences last November. The satirical musical celebrates life in Nevada and shows Reid’s musical talent. Reid has also published over 100 magazine articles and the anthology, A Treasury of the Sierra Nevada. He has even contributed lessons for more than 100 mathematics texts.
A selection committee of representatives from throughout the state chooses both 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.
At this year’s Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Awards, the reception and silent auction will begin at 6 p.m., with the formal program commencing at 7 p.m. The $40 ticket to the event includes beverages and hors d’oeuvres and supports the services of the University Libraries. The event is generously sponsored by Ed and Sharron DeBolt, Marilouise Brayer, Andrea Crowell and Mrs. Jack Crowell, Janice Pine and Spike Wilson, Arrow Vending, Tom Cook, Bobbi and Dale Lazzarone/The Lazzarone Group, and Joan Zenan. For more information or reservations, call the Friends of the University of Nevada, Reno Library, (775) 682-5690.
The Friends of the University of Nevada, Reno Library was established in 1952 to help enhance the collections and services of the University Libraries, as well as to create educational and cultural opportunities for the membership and the greater Reno-Tahoe community. Since its founding, Friends members and volunteers have established unique programs, such as the annual Nevada Writers Hall of Fame reception and ceremony; built a substantial endowment to support Library acquisitions and services; and raised thousands of dollars to support the University Libraries through special events and activities.