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Contributed By:

Emily Harris

Northwest Passages: Sherman Alexie

OPB | Oct. 8, 2009 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:02 p.m.

Sherman Alexie was born hydrocephalic — with water on his brain — but underwent an operation at the age of six months. By the time he was five, he was reading thick novels like The Grapes of Wrath.

Growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation led him to seek a better education elsewhere. A college poetry teacher turned him from pre-med to writing. Alexie has published almost two dozen books and screenplays, directed one of his three movies, and won the National Book Award and scads of others.

He has been called the most popular and influential Native American writer in the country.

And Alexie is funny: in just five minutes last year he managed to crack Stephen Colbert’s facade and leave the comedian temporarily speechless.

Alexie has long been blunt about culture and identity. He has set some people on edge for other reasons as well. Parents in Oregon and Illinois have asked school districts to remove his young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of A Part Time Indian, from classrooms. He also caused a stir this spring when he railed against “elitist” electronic book gadets, saying he wanted to hit a woman sitting on a plane with a Kindle. (He expanded on his “visceral, negative reaction to eBooks” in a later blog interview.)

Alexie published two new books this year: Faces, a collection of poetry, and War Dances, a mix of poems and prose labelled fiction but clearly drawing on his own life to explore fatherhood, love, drunkness and politics. He joins us for the hour, a few days before you have to buy a ticket to hear him at the Wordstock Festival. Post your reactions to his work and any questions for him here.

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