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Sherman Alexie and the Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

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Christina South

on 9 December 2014

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Transcript of Sherman Alexie and the Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

Alexie's Writings: Poems
Inspired by college professor who taught him "how to connect to Native literature in a different way.

First published poetry collection was
The Business of Fancydancing: Stories and Poems (1992)
Another popular poetry collection was
First Indian on the Moon (1993).

Themes that occur in his poetry include: illusions that tempt Americans today as well as images of Native Americans (such as alcoholism and hard realities). Many of his works were extremely humorous and used irony to convey messages.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Discussion
Novel is semi-autobiographical: Childhood
This book gives Indians a voice, encouragement, and hope that there is a way off of the reservation.

Without Alexie, there would be few Indian role models for young children. The novel relates to children, no matter the race, because it portrays the difficulties of adolescence. The novel teaches children about racism towards Indians.

There would be no
Absolutely True Diary
without Sherman Alexie's experiences because his life influenced the character and the outline of the entire story.

Arnold and Alexie prove that there is a way off the reservation, even though it can be extremely difficult. Hard work often pays off and the fictional character and very real author prove just that.

Alexie has the creditability to write about the life of an Indian because he lived on the reservation and lived the difficult life of an Indian in poverty.
Background on Sherman Alexie
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Discussion
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Discussion
Arnold and Alexie both thrived at school which was one reason why they were outcast by their peers.
Arnold loved books. He said "I grabbed my book and opened it up. I wanted o smell it. Heck, I wanted to kiss it. Yes, kiss it. That's right, I am a book kisser" (pg. 31).
Alexie also loved books. For example, he read
Grapes of Wrath
by kindergarten.
Grapes of Wrath
was Arnold's favorite book listed in the novel (pg. 177).
Sherman Alexie and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Born on October 7, 1966.
Grew up on Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington.
Left the reservation in order to better his education.
Attended Gonzaga University in 1985 on scholarship where he initially studied medicine and law before dropping out.
Enrolled in Washington State University where he studied creative writing. He eventually graduated in 1995.
Published several literary works including poetry, short stories, and children's novels.
His works are influenced by his time on the reservation and being a Native American.
Currently lives in Seattle with his wife and two sons.
"Poetry = anger X imagination" -Sherman Alexie
Alexie's Short Stories
Irony is very prevalent in all writing, especially in short stories.
Said transition from poetry to prose
"[occurred] pretty naturally because…my poems are stories. It felt natural for me to evolve to a larger form. Not to say it wasn’t difficult for me at first, though…I had this thing about going beyond one page, typewritten. I’d get to the bottom of a page and freak out, because I wouldn’t know what to do next. But the stories kept getting bigger and bigger…They began to demand more space than a poem could provide.”

First short story collection was
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
(1993).
series of 22 stories about two Indians living on the Spokane Reservation.
Other short story collections include
Ten Little Indians
and
The Toughest Indian in the World
. These feature Native American characters.
Alexie's Novels
First novel was
Reservation Blues
revisits characters from
The Lone Ranger
.
Indian Killer
(1996) is an adult novel about an Indian murder mystery set in Seattle.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
(2007) is a semi-biographical story about a 14 year old boy Arnold Spirit.
This received a lot of credit and a lot of criticism due to the portrayal of Indian.
"For 15 years now, Sherman Alexie has explored the struggle to survive between the grinding plates of the Indian and white worlds. He’s done it through various characters and genres, but “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” may be his best work yet. Working in the voice of a 14-year-old forces Alexie to strip everything down to action and emotion, so that reading becomes more like listening to your smart, funny best friend recount his day while waiting after school for a ride home" (New York Times Review, Bruce Barcott 2007).
Alexie's Praise for his Writings
Won numerous prizes/awards including the PEN/Hemingway Award (
The Lone Ranger
), the American Book Award (
Reservation Blues
) and the National Book Award (
Absolutely True Diary
).
The Los Angels Times said that "few writers are more masterful than Sherman Alexie...The high school misfit is a familiar young-adult story template, but Alexie makes it fresh because this particular misfit (Arnold Spirit) is one who doesn't often appear in print."
Even though his works have been praised,
The Absolutely True Diary
has appeared on the national "banned book list" for the past four years. It is possible that his appreciation for being banned drives him to describe the difficult lives of American Indians in greater detail.
Junior/Arnold grew up on the Spokane Reservation, as did Alexie.
Alexie was unable to recognize his dreams on the reservation, which is why he had to leave to go to school (as did Arnold in the novel).
"We reservation Indians don't get to realize our dreams. We don't get those chances. Or choices. We're just poor and that's all we are" (pg. 13).
"[I want to go to Reardan] Right now. If I don't go now, I never will. I have to do it now" (pg. 46).
Alexie was born with a condition called hydrocephalus, a condition that Arnold had in the book.
Arnold opens his diary saying that he was born with water on the brain. He describes that he was not supposed to live long, and he was supposed to suffer mental illnesses (pg. 1-2).
He was called Orbit in school while Alexie was called Globe due to his condition.
Arnold has a stuttering problem in the book, partially due to his medical condition. It appears that Alexie has a lisp, likely due to the hydrocephalus.
Alexie and Arnold were both named after their fathers (Sherman Joseph Alexie and Arnold was called Junior after his father/ancestors. "[Junior]'s a common name on my rez, on any rez" (pg. 60).
Both Alexie and Arnold's fathers were alcoholics and that put a strain on their families. Alexie's mother had to work multiple jobs while Arnold's family could not afford a vet ( pg.11).
Both men grew up in poverty which gave Alexie the authorization to write about it in the book.
Arnold and Alexie left their school in Wellpinit to better their education.
They moved to Reardan, an all white school that was about 30 miles away from the reservation.
At Reardan, Alexie and Arnold were able to obtain a "quality" education.
For example, Arnold was able to geology and challenge the teacher (pg.85).
Alexie and Arnold both left school on the rez after realizing that the text books haven't changed in over 30 years. They both had their mother's old text book (their mother's name was Agnes in both lives).
Arnold knew it would be difficult to get to the school, and he would be hated by his tribe for leaving (47).
Alexie was able to go to college on scholarship after graduating from Reardan. It is hopeful at the end of the book Arnold will follow that same path.
Alexie and Arnold both became basketball stars at Reardan. Not only did both boys improve their education, their social lives improved by leaving the reservation.
He can make the "extreme" comments through Arnold because he witnessed the struggles and racism.
The humor behind Arnold's voice in the text is likely influenced by Alexie's stint as a comedian. The humor in the text lightens the dark material in the book and makes it more appropriate for children.
Alexie himself witnessed several tragic events on the reservation, so much so that he has not returned much in 20 years.
Arnold witnesses several different sad events. It is arguable that Alexie witnessed similar events (i.e. losing people to alcoholism).
Alexie is extremely passionate about Indians and racism, especially the issue on Native American mascots. While at Reardan (like Arnold) the mascot was an Indian.
Why are Sherman Alexie and
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Important?

Fun fact: Alexie actually suffered from alcoholism until he was robbed which led him to get sober. Arnold talks of this possible fate throughout the book and how he does not want any part of it.
Works Cited
Alexie, Sherman.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Print.

"Sherman Alexie." Wikipedia, 16 November 2014. Web. 05 December 2014.

Barcott, Bruce. "Off the Rez." New York Times, 11 November 2007. Web. 05 December 2014.

Cline, Lynne. "About Sherman Alexie: A Profile." P. Shares.org, ND. Web. 04 December 2014.

The Poetry Foundation. "Sherman Alexie." TPF, 16 April 2014. Web. 05 December 2014.

Smith, Nicole. "Biography of Sherman Alexie." Article my Riad, 07 December 2011. Web. 05 December 2014.


Christina South
Arnold is a writer in the story. Alexie's passion for writing likely influenced this character decision.
Full transcript