2018 Irene Adler Prize

Lynnette Curtis is the winner of the 2018 Irene Adler Prize for women writers for her essay, “Letters to Las Vegas.” It appears below.

Curtis, who receives $1,000 toward her education, is pursuing her M.F.A. in creative writing at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina.

Honorable mentions go to:

Maddie Kim (“A Land of My Own”), who is pursuing her B.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing at Stanford University.

Helene Eisman Fisher (“Harriet”), who is pursuing her M.F.A. in creative nonfiction at the City College of New York.

Letters to Las Vegas

By Lynnette Curtis

The night of October 1 was clear and balmy here in Las Vegas. A golden three-quarter moon hung over the beautiful mountains that border our neon valley.

More than twenty thousand people gathered in a field on the Strip to dance and sing along to live country music, to celebrate whatever happy events had brought them to town, to forget their troubles for a few hours. This was what Las Vegas had always offered: a carefree, temporary escape.

What happened next was unspeakable. A misanthropic high-roller smashed out a window in the sky and rained deadly rounds on concertgoers below, turning our one-of-a-kind city into the site of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

That night changed the city forever. Never again (or so it felt) would Las Vegas be a place chiefly associated with joyful escape. Never again a place where something like that would never happen. Forever after the city would carry an ugly asterisk.

That night broke my heart and the hearts of every other Las Vegan.

Las Vegas is the love of my life. The city welcomed me, as it had so many other misfits, when I was an off-course teenager with empty pockets and nowhere else to go. It gave me a home, introduced me to a tribe of fellow writers and settled into my bones in a way I never want to shake. I didn’t grow up here, but it’s here where I grew up.

As a fledgling fiction writer, I long avoided writing about Las Vegas. The city is famous, after all. Its name is highly evocative. It’s a colorful character in its own right; everybody thinks they already know it. It’s tough to capture in a fresh, original way.

But that night changed me, too. At first, along with heartache, I felt breathlessly helpless. What could I – one person with limited means and abilities – possibly do? I also began to experience a constant, low-simmering rage that needed a productive outlet.

Then I realized I could do what writers have always done. I could shine a spotlight on all the beauty that still surrounded me. Maybe I could help others see it, too. I could write honestly about the city I loved, and its people, who had become my people. I could tell the stories of my neighbors who lived and worked and raised families here, against the sparkling backdrop of the scarred Strip. This was how I would begin to honor, in my own small way, the place that had given me so much.

And so I have begun to write story after story about this city full of survivors. These are my love letters to Las Vegas. I plan to compile a book-length collection of them. This is my most important writing project for 2018.

That unspeakable October night took away so much. It also emboldened me. I finally found my voice. The least I can do, now, is use it.