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Meet the author: Sherman Alexie at Miami Book Fair International

October 19, 2009

Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie

Writer Sherman Alexie, who will be at this year’s Miami Book Fair International, is profiled in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times as a jolly fellow who can’t stop laughing long enough to let a photographer snap a serious picture.

That image may come as a surprise to fans of his books and movies. Sure, his stories can be funny, but they are also brutally honest about the struggles of Indians caught between traditional reservation ways and life in the larger world.

Just consider some of the titles: Reservation Blues, Indian Killer, or The Toughest Indian in the World.

A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, Alexie frequently includes a themes of father-son conflict. All of his characteristic elements can be seen in his much admired tragicomic 1998 independent movie, Smoke Signals.

But as Alexie tells the L.A. Times, ethnic identity, however important, is only a part of what he is.

“People’s ethnicity is the first floor of their house,” he says. “But the real interesting stuff is in the cellar and the attic.”

Alexie was born with hydrocephalus, which sometimes figures in his work. He underwent an operation at six months and wasn’t expected to live. If he did live, his parents were warned, he’d be severely mentally handicapped. Instead, he thrived, learning to read at age three–though he did suffer seizures until he was seven.

Growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpoint, WA, he was ostracized for being different. Attending a white high school off the reservation, he became captain of his high school basketball team. Basketball, too, shows up in his stories.

Alexie turned to poetry and short-story writing after washing out of medical school. Now 43, Alexie has won many prizes for his books, including the 2007 National Book Award in Young People’s Literature for his YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, about a boy trying to fit in at a high school off the reservation.

His first collection of stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, received a PEN/Hemingway Award. Granta magzine named him one of the Best Young American Novelists in 1996. You can learn more about Alexie at his website.

With his new short-story collection, War Dances, Alexie returns to writing for adults. Among the rave reviews it’s received in the short time it’s been out, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune praises Alexie’s “characteristically funny dialogue and snappy stories.”

Alexie will be at Miami Book Fair International on Sunday, Nov. 15, at 11 a.m. to read from War Dances and talk about his work.

A long-time resident of Seattle, where he lives with his family, Alexie says the books on his father’s shelf showed him the way off the reservation.

“I read about all sorts of different places in the world — I was transported,” he tells the L.A. Times. “So the act of leaving my own body became pretty easy, inside a book. I think it makes it easier to actually leave, then. The books sort of led the way.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. rachel permalink
    October 19, 2009 1:50 pm

    I saw Smoke Signals, and although I remember very little of it I remember liking it a great deal. It was at a time when my mother was trying to expose us to independent and foreign films in order show us new and exciting things, to show us the world was bigger than it seemed. And for that I am grateful.

    A Part-Time Indian. That’s funny.

    I have to say he does seem very amused in the photograph above.

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