Any first-generation UNLV student can enter this contest by picking ONE of the themes listed below and writing a short personal essay inspired by it. Feel free to interpret these themes and make connections in a way that is meaningful to you. Essays should be 500 words long, and written in the first-person voice. The essay should reflect your personal experiences as a first-generation student; it does not need to speak to the experiences all first-generation students. 

Essays will be read and judged by writers and editors connected to the Black Mountain Institute. Judges will look for creativity, surprising perspectives, technical writing proficiency, and strong personal voice. Finalists will be announced during First-Gen Week. The winner of the contest will be given the opportunity to work with a professional editor from The Believer magazine to develop the essay and to learn about publication opportunities.


Survival: The hardest moments in our lives often teach us crucial survival skills. From a first-generation perspective, share an example, story, or advice that helped you overcome academic or personal challenges.

Translation: Starting a new phase of your life can make you feel like you have to start translating between two different worlds: who you were then, and who you are now. How do you define first-generation for yourself right now? What does that term "first-generation" mean to you? What does it mean to your family or friends?

Firsts:  What did your first day on a college campus feel like? Share some advice and wisdom that you have acquired for people doing something challenging and exciting for the very first time.

The Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute (BMI), home to The Believer, is an international literary center dedicated to bringing writers and the literary imagination into the heart of public life. BMI is a unit within the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. 

The Believer, an eight-time National Magazine Award finalist, is a bimonthly literature, arts, and culture magazine. In each issue, readers will find journalism, essays, intimate interviews, an expansive comics section, poetry, and on occasion, delightful and unexpected bonus items.

The Shearing Fellowship is for emerging and distinguished writers who have published at least one book with a trade or literary press, it includes:

  • a stipend of $20,000 paid over a four-month period;
  • a semester-long letter of appointment;
  • eligibility for health coverage;
  • office space in the BMI offices on the campus of UNLV;
  • free housing (fellows cover some utilities) in a unique and vibrant arts complex in the bustling district of downtown Las Vegas—home to The Writer’s Block, our city’s beloved independent bookstore; and
  • recognition in BMI’s literature, and on The Believer’s masthead, as a “Shearing Fellow.”

While there are no formal teaching requirements, this is a “working fellowship.” BMI’s visiting fellows will maintain a regular in-office presence, around 10 hours a week, along with 10 hours of service to the community. In addition to the primary goal of furthering one’s own writing during their term in Las Vegas, visiting fellows are expected to engage in a substantial way with BMI’s community, in a way custom-scoped based on their skills and personal interest. Upon acceptance into the program, each fellow will craft a work plan in partnership with BMI’s program manager that is meaningful to all involved parties. Here are some examples of activities a visiting fellow could pursue:

  • Offer readings, craft talks, and other public presentations to the readers and writers of UNLV and Southern Nevada.
  • Curate an event or program, leveraging the fellows’ professional and creative networks.
  • Contribute original work to The Believer (i.e., a column or feature essay, or occasional work such as lists, or entries in “Notes & Apologies”).
  • Provide editorial support to The Believer (edit essays, conduct an interview, consult on editorial conversations).
  • Assist with headlines, blurbs, and occasional Twitter campaigns; offer opinion on drafts and other editorial concerns that arise in the life of a literary institution.
Black Mountain Institute