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The Black Mountain Institute will cease publishing venerable Believer literary magazine

A building with a sign saying The Beverly Rogers Literature and Law Building
The Beverly Rogers Literature and Law Building at UNLV, following a major renovation under the auspices of the Black Mountain Institute.
(Aaron Mayes / UNLV Photo Services)

The Black Mountain Institute will discontinue publication of its flagship magazine.

On Tuesday, the University of Nevada Las Vegas announced it will stop producing the Believer magazine in spring 2022, citing a “strategic realignment within the college and BMI as it emerges from the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“This was not an easy decision but a necessary one, unfortunately,” Jennifer Keene, dean of UNLV’s College of Liberal Arts, said in a news release. “The Believer consumed a significant portion of BMI’s resources. After reviewing the data with internal and external stakeholders, it was clear that there was no path forward to continue publishing the magazine. Print publications in general have been facing increasing headwinds in recent years, which makes them a financially challenging endeavor.”

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Hired by UNLV to make it a national literary powerhouse, Shenk’s five-year tenure was marked by a string of complaints over unprofessional behavior.

Staff members were informed of the magazine’s fate a couple of weeks ago, according to a former staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Everyone is devastated,” she said. “It’s totally crushing. You pour so much time and energy into a thing and you do it so that it will continue to exist, so there will be a legacy.”

One key concern, the staff member added, is what will happen to the voluminous online archives of the magazine. “Will they maintain that,” she asked, “or is 15 years of literary history just gone?”

On Twitter, writers and editors responded with dismay and disbelief. Among the milder reactions, they wrote: “bummer,” “rip,” “a real loss” and “this sucks.” Some of them criticized the university’s decision to close the publication rather than looking to sell it.

“I wonder why not simply offer it to another institution — instead of just shutting it down?” wrote poet Ilya Kaminsky, author of “Deaf Republic.” “We need cultural memory. Shutting down isn’t a solution.”

Jason Diamond, author of “The Sprawl,” wrote: “I know The Believer has been through, eh, a lot (to put it mildly) in the last few years, but if this is really the end it’s really heartbreaking.”

“Shame on @BlackMtnInst and UNLV for failing to recognize their own crown jewel in @believermag, which despite many fewer resources was in league with the best magazines in the country & a finalist for multiple @ASME1963 National Magazine Awards this year alone,” tweeted Ariel Lewiton, a writer and teacher.

Among alumni, including at least one who left recently amid uncertainly over the magazine’s future, a sense of mourning prevailed.

“Working at @believermag was one of the greatest privileges of my life,” tweeted Kristen Radtke, who was the magazine’s deputy publisher and art director before leaving in August. “I cried for a solid week when I heard this news.”

When asked if the university considered selling the magazine, Karyn S. Hollingsworth, communications director of UNLV’s College of Liberal Arts, said in an email that they’ve “looked at all avenues. While The Believer is a well-respected literary publication, subscriber base is modest at best, and its production costs consume a significant portion of BMI’s resources.”

Founded in 2003 by authors Ed Park, Vendela Vida and Heidi Julavits and originally published by McSweeney’s, Dave Eggers’ independent publishing house, the Believer is known for its offbeat content and upbeat critical philosophy. Its articles by authors both established and emerging have earned multiple nominations for National Magazine Awards. Nick Hornby, Peter Orner, Amy Sedaris, Susan Straight, Anne Carson, William T. Vollmann and others have contributed to the publication.

But McSweeney’s struggled to run the glossy magazine, and in 2015 it was put on hiatus. Then, in 2017, the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute — BMI’s official name — purchased the Believer. Joshua Wolf Shenk, BMI’s director at the time, became its editor in chief.

But earlier this year, following a Zoom meeting in which Shenk exposed himself to staff members, as well as allegations that he had fostered a toxic work environment, Shenk resigned, raising questions about the future of BMI as well as the Believer.

“This just feels like clear retaliation for them feeling humiliated, that people spoke out against UNLV,” said the former staff member. “This was, I think, some of the staff members’ biggest fear the second [the Zoom incident] happened and it’s one of the main reasons that some people didn’t want to talk to the press — and a reason that other people did. I can say that I was terrified of this since day one.”

Between 2013 and 2015, the Rogers Foundation gave BMI $30 million in service of a grand mission to expand the literary institution and its influence in Las Vegas and beyond. The Believer was part of that mission, and under the leadership of Shenk, the institute launched the Believer Festival, hoping to transform the desert city into a literary arts hub.

Shenk, the author of ‘Powers of Two,’ resigned as the leader of the Believer magazine and the Black Mountain Institute after a video incident.

“While The Believer is a highly regarded vehicle for both new and established literary voices, we have a responsibility to direct our resources to the initiatives most central to BMI’s mission,” said Keene in her statement. “As we focus on its core mission, support for BMI remains strong. We look forward to the continuation of the institute’s vibrant offerings and exceptional literary and community engagement.”

The magazine’s final issue will be published in February/March of next year.


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