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A formerly imprisoned Egyptian novelist, a queer fiction and essay writer , a vibrant poet returning to Las Vegas, a graphic novelist, and a National Book Award finalist will join the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute (BMI) at UNLV for the international literary center’s 2019-20 season.

BMI, home to The Believer magazine, stimulates literary community through literary activism, innovative media, and live experiences, and its visiting fellows play a role in each area, turning up the wattage considerably in an already bright cultural scene.
— Joshua Wolf Shenk, BMI's Artistic and Executive Director

BMI’s fellowships actually had their start with City of Asylum, which brings distinguished writers in exile to Las Vegas for an extended stay. This year, BMI welcomes Egyptian novelist and Ahmed Naji to its City of Asylum program. Formerly imprisoned in Egypt for “violating public decency,” Naji will be the fifth fellow in BMI’s City of Asylum program, a first of its kind in the U.S. that now has sister programs in Ithaca, NY and Pittsburgh, PA. BMI connected with Naji through PEN America, an international advocacy organization that campaigned for his release, and awarded him, in absentia, its 2016 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award conferred annually to an individual or group of imprisoned writers.


Shearing Fellow | Spring 2020


Kristen Arnett is the NYT and Los Angeles Times bestselling author of the debut novel Mostly Dead Things. She is a queer fiction and essay writer. She was awarded Ninth Letter's Literary Award in Fiction and is a columnist for Literary Hub. Her work has appeared at North American Review, The Normal School, Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, Guernica, Electric Literature, McSweeneys, PBS Newshour, Bennington Review, Tin House Flash Fridays/The Guardian, Salon, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her story collection, Felt in the Jaw, was published by Split Lip Press and was awarded the 2017 Coil Book Award.


Shearing Fellow | Spring 2020


Lisa Ko is the author of The Leavers, a novel which won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction and was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction, the 2018 PEN/Hemingway Award, and the 2017 Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award. Her writing has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016The New York Times, BuzzFeed, O. Magazine, and elsewhere. She has been awarded fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the MacDowell Colony, among others. Born in Queens and raised in Jersey, she lives in Brooklyn.


Shearing Fellow | FALL 2019


Amy Kurzweil is a New Yorker cartoonist and the author ofFlying Couch: a graphic memoir (a New York Times Editor's Choice and a Kirkus Best Memoir of 2016). Her writing, comics, and cartoons have also appeared in The Believer Magazine, Longreads, Lenny Letter, The Awl, The Toast, Catapult, and many other places. She teaches comics at The Fashion Institute of Technology and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn.


Shearing/City of Asylum Fellow | 2019-2021


Ahmed Naji is an Egyptian novelist and journalist. He is the author of several books, Rogers (2007), Seven Lessons Learned from Ahmed Makky (2009), and Using Life (2014), The Mystery of the Murdered Mahragan Singer (2017) as well as numerous blogs and other articles. He won the Dubai Press’s Arab Journalism Award for his journalist works. On May 16, 2016, PEN honored Ahmed Naji with the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award recognizing his struggle in the face of adversity for the right to freedom of expression.

Ahmed was sentenced for two years in prison after being accused of “violating public modesty” with The Use of Life. He spent 2016 in prison, and after three years of struggle with the Egyptian legal system, he was able to leave the country and move to Las Vegas with his small family.


Shearing Fellow | FALL 2019


Vi Khi Nao is the author of Sheep Machine and Umbilical Hospital, and of the short stories collection, A Brief Alphabet of Torture, which won FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize in 2016, the novel, Fish in Exile, and the poetry collection, The Old Philosopher, which won the Nightboat Books Prize for Poetry in 2014. Her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. Her stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in NOON, Ploughshares, Black Warrior Review, and BOMB, among others. She holds an MFA in fiction from Brown University.




Niela Orr is a Deputy Editor of The Believer, a columnist at The Baffler, and a contributing editor of The Organist podcast. A 2019 Eleanor Kagi Foundation Writer-in-Residence at the Black Mountain Institute, her writing has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, BuzzFeed, Elle, Glamour, Harper's Bazaar, and McSweeney's Quarterly.


For Press & Community Engagement Inquiries

Sara Ortiz 


Special Thank You to our partners

The Rogers Foundation 

The Shearing Family

Terry Zalcman

Sonja and Michael Saltman

The Pioneer

PEN America

Chris Gonya