culture A literary life: Carol Harter reflects on her tenure at BMI and the future of the organization.
Most readers casually understand BMI’s impact on Vegas in terms of the top writers, scholars and cultural figures it brings to town, often to wrestle with fraught topics — politics, ethics, religion. But it’s had a host of other effects, too. It funds a big-name keynote speaker each year at the Vegas Valley Book Festival; it sometimes hosts off-campus events; and it’s brought quality writers here on fellowships and as grad students, with a commensurate effect on the local literary scene. Harter leaves at an auspicious time for BMI: KVBC Channel 3 owner Jim Rogers recently donated $10 million, which will let the organization expand its programming, boost the stipends for its fellowship and grad students and even award a major literary prize. Not to mention the reopening of the dormant City of Asylum program, which shelters refugee writers. Big things happening! Weird time to step away, no? “You’re right,” she cracks, “I shouldn’t retire! I should stay here until I’m 80!” Indeed, it’s not like she’s leaving-leaving, though she won’t be back-back, either. There’s no successor in the wings yet — BMI’s vigorous selection effort hasn’t yet churned up a suitable replacement. Harter will return, temporarily, as a consultant.
Closing the book As Carol Harter steps down from Black Mountain Institute, we talk with her about good writers, big money and the dopes who govern Hunter S. Thompson’s estate B y S c o t t D i c k e n s h e e t s
arol Harter affects a little comic vanity about the empty bookshelves in her soonto-be-vacated office at the Black Mountain Institute. “Don’t get those in the picture,” she mock-urges a couple of times. Twenty-some boxes of her books are either on the floor or on their way elsewhere, and the reality of that final transition lends an elegiac quality to the smallish, windowed room on the UNLV campus. Effective June 30, Harter will retire as BMI’s executive director, a job she stepped into in 2006 after 11 years as UNLV’s president — she sat in the big chair longer than anyone else, and has been the only woman in that job.
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Why retire now? Seems like it would be an exciting time to lead BMI. In fact, I’m so jealous of my successor already because not only will he or she have the better part of $10 million to spend, but we’re also moving to the political science area, for about a year and a half, and then back here to 4,200 square feet, where we now have 1,400. With both money and space, my successor is going to be very well off. I guess it’s the moment for someone new to come in and take it to the next level. But also, I don’t want to talk about my age much, but I’m certainly there. I’ve worked 50 years, and it’s time. My husband’s just retired. We want to be able to do things like travel — you know, the kinds of things where you want to be healthy enough and your brain works enough to enjoy life. We don’t know how much time we’ll have left, and we want to live it well.
P h oto g r a p h y Christopher Smith