|Born||September 4, 1970|
|Occupation||Author, editor, journalist, teacher|
|Subject||Homelessness, Las Vegas Valley|
|Notable works||Beneath the Neon|
My Week at the Blue Angel
Dark Days, Bright Nights
Matthew O'Brien (born in 1970) is an American author, journalist and teacher best known for penning the nonfiction book Beneath the Neon about homeless people living underground in the Las Vegas Valley. He lived in Las Vegas from 1997 to 2017.
O'Brien, who grew up in the Atlanta, Georgia, area, graduated in 1988 from Decatur High School, where he was a point guard on the basketball team. He attended Georgia State University and was a member of the team that advanced to the 1991 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament. O'Brien graduated in 1995 from the University of West Georgia. He taught English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, from where he earned a MFA in creative writing.
He worked as a staff writer, news editor and managing editor of the alternative weekly Las Vegas CityLife from 2000 to 2008. While at the paper, he co-wrote two cover stories about exploring the underground flood channels of Las Vegas after reading about Timmy "TJ" Weber, who was suspected (and later convicted) of murdering his girlfriend and her son, raping her daughter and attempting to kill another son. Weber used the drains to evade the police. O'Brien discovered hundreds of homeless people living in the storm drains.
His research about and interviews from inside the underground flood channels are detailed in his book Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas, released in June 2007. This book has been reviewed or written about by more than 100 media outlets, including Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Wired, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Nightline, The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Al Jazeera, CNN, NPR, the BBC, the Associated Press, and other national and international media outlets have done stories about the tunnels and the tunnel-dwellers.
CNN's Michael Cary went into the tunnels with O'Brien and described him as "an expert on the more than 300 miles of underground flood channels and its tunnel dwellers."
O'Brien's second book, My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas, released November 15, 2010, is a collection of creative-nonfiction stories set in off-the-beaten-path Vegas, including a seedy motel on East Fremont Street that's known for prostitution, street drug dealing and violence, and the case of Jessie Foster, an international endangered missing Canadian woman lured to Las Vegas who disappeared 10 months later. Jessie is thought to be the victim of human trafficking.
O'Brien is founder of Shine a Light, a community project that provides housing, drug counseling, and other services to homeless people living in the drains. In a January 2011 article, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution described O'Brien's work in the tunnels "turned into a 4½-year obsession for O'Brien, where he wound up documenting a population he suspects no one except a handful of police officers knew existed." CBS News correspondent Seth Doane, who went underneath the Las Vegas Strip with O'Brien in the summer of 2010, wrote that "O'Brien's interest has turned into advocacy" in his efforts to help the homeless.
On September 3–4, 2013, O'Brien appeared on the Dr. Phil Show in a two-part series after O'Brien escorted professional locator Troy Dunn into the underground flood channels of Las Vegas. There, they found a homeless mother, Cyndi, who'd been separated from her four daughters for several years. The second episode of the show, Cyndi appeared with Dr. Phil and reunited with her daughters in the studio. At the end of the show, Dr. Phil offered Cyndi and her husband, Rick, rehab and family-counseling services, which they accepted. Dr. Phil discussed O'Brien's book, Beneath the Neon.
In March 2015, digital network Seeker profiled O'Brien on the air as he explored the tunnels and interacted with residents.
In January 2016, O'Brien raised more than $13,000 in 24 hours through Crowdrise for O'Brien's nonprofit group Shine a Light to benefit homeless people living in tunnels beneath the Las Vegas Strip.
After three tunnel dwellers died in June 2016 in a flash flood, O'Brien and a homeless man called "Jazz" appeared on NPR's southern Nevada affiliate KNPR to talk about the flood, in which Jazz's longtime girlfriend Sharon drowned. O'Brien's nonprofit, Shine a Light, helped one of the flood victim's families with expenses surrounding the death.
In July 2017, O'Brien relocated to San Salvador in Central America to teach literature at an English-language preparatory school and to write a sequel to Beneath the Neon about survivor dwellers of the storm drains. In an article about O'Brien, the Las Vegas Review-Journal described his move out of the country as the "man who shined light on Las Vegas' tunnel dwellers (is) moving on."
Central Recovery Press released the sequel, titled Dark Days, Bright Nights: Surviving the Las Vegas Storm Drains, in November 2020. Kirkus Reviews noted that the book "chronicles how one group of homeless people were able to leave tunnel life behind" while Coachella Valley Independent described it as "redemption stories" that "cast light on a rarely seen side of Las Vegas and offer a portrait of homelessness and recovery in America." On November 17, on Dark Days, Bright Nights' release date, the Reno Gazette Journal published a related feature story profiling Half Pint, one of the book’s interviewees, and detailed O’Brien’s background with the tunnels. USA Today picked up the story and ran the article.
He has won several first-place awards in the Nevada Press Association's Better Newspaper Contest, including Journalist of Merit (given to journalists with less than five years of experience to encourage them to stay in the business) in 2002 and Outstanding Journalist (a top individual award) in 2006.
In November 2011, O'Brien was given the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Silver Pen Award, sponsored by the Friends of the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries. Established in 1996, the Silver Pen recognizes writers who are in mid-career but have already shown substantial achievement. After the announcement of the award, The Nevada Review featured O'Brien in a Q&A article.
- Beneath the Neon (Huntington Press, 2007)
- My Week at the Blue Angel (Huntington Press, 2010)
- Dark Days, Bright Nights (Central Recovery Press, 2020)
- "Biography". beneaththeneon.com. Matthew O'Brien. Retrieved 15 February 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Man who shined light on Las Vegas' tunnel dwellers moving on". reviewjournal.com. 28 July 2017.
- "Faculty & Staff". unlv.edu.
- "Weber receives death sentence". Las Vegas Review-Journal. February 28, 2003. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Las Vegas CityLife Writer's Book Reveals Secret World Beneath the City". Tucson Weekly. May 7, 2007. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Beneath the Neon review". Publishers Weekly. April 9, 2007. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Review: Beneath the Neon". Kirkus Reviews. May 1, 2007. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Reviews: Screen, Music, Print, and Games". Wired. May 22, 2007. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Las Vegas: Beneath the Neon". Der Spiegel. August 11, 2009. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Today's News". Las Vegas Advisor. October 31, 2009. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "The secret world beneath Sin City". BBC. October 3, 2009. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Under Las Vegas: Tunnels Stretch for Miles". ABC News. September 23, 2009. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Las Vegas Tunnels a Refuge for Homeless". CBS News. January 4, 2010. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Sucked Into The Tunnels Beneath Las Vegas". NPR. December 4, 2008. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Tunnels beneath Las Vegas a refuge for homeless people". The Associated Press (reprinted on SIGN ON San Diego). January 4, 2010. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Under Vegas glitz, a dark life in tunnels". CNN. October 24, 2009. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "The Battle for East Fremont". Las Vegas Weekly. May 13, 2004. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Decatur native helps underground homeless population in Las Vegas". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. January 8, 2011. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Homeless People Live in Tunnels Under Las Vegas". CBS News. August 10, 2010. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Living Underground". American Public Media Living Underground. April 14, 2011. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Dr. Phil.com - Shows - Below Rock Bottom". drphil.com.
- "Dr. Phil.com - Shows - Leaving Life in the Tunnels". drphil.com.
- "Living In The Hidden Tunnels Of Las Vegas". Seeker Network.
- "Here's how a Las Vegas writer is crowd funding new lives for homeless people living below the Strip". The Daily Dot.
- "Flood Spells Tragedy For Tunnel Dwellers".
- "Homeless Population Vulnerable During Storm". 13 July 2016.
- "Out Of The Darkness: Escaping The Las Vegas Tunnels". knpr.org.
- "DARK DAYS, BRIGHT NIGHTS". Kirkus Reviews.
- "Discovering the Drains: An Excerpt From Matthew O'Brien's 'Dark Days, Bright Nights'". Coachella Valley Independent. November 13, 2020.
- Komenda, Ed. "Leaving the Las Vegas Tunnels: Beth Brower escapes underground hell". Reno Gazette Journal.
- Komenda, Ed. "Leaving the Las Vegas tunnels: Beth Brower escapes underground hell". USA TODAY.
- "Awards Honor Nevada Artists". NevadaCulture.org. September 30, 2010.
- "Fellowship Recipients". Nevada Arts Council. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Nevada Press Association Awards". Las Vegas Review-Journal. September 21, 2003. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Sun garners 15 top awards in 2006 state press contest". Las Vegas Sun. September 17, 2006. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Nevada Writers Hall of Fame honors cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell". Nevada TODAY. October 26, 2011. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "The Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Announce Winners". The Nevada Review. September 29, 2011. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "An Interview with Matthew O'Brien, Winner of the Silver Pen Award". The Nevada Review. October 8, 2011. Retrieved 2012-09-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Official Web site for Matthew O'Brien
- Featured panelist, Vegas Valley Book Festival
- 8NewsNow, "I-Team: 'Beneath the Neon' -- Underground Las Vegas"
- Rebel Yell, "Third annual Shanty Town headlines Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week", Nov. 22, 2010
- Las Vegas Weekly, "Local author Matthew O'Brien on Hunter S. Thompson, Larry's Villa and more", November 19, 2010
- CasinoOnline.co.uk, Book review, Matthew O'Brien - Beneath the Neon
- Las Vegas CityLife, "Fair and balanced: Matthew O'Brien's new book of compelling essays offers no judgment on its often troubled subjects", by Tod Goldberg, November 5, 2010
- Matthew O'Brien at IMDb