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Sherman Alexie

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Angela Willingham

on 10 September 2015

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Transcript of Sherman Alexie

The Novel as an Autobiography
Community and Identity

Alexie reading and discussing "Ode to Gray"
Smoke Signals -
Alexie wrote the screen play for this movie.
At the Sundance Film Festival, this film won the Audience Award and the Filmmakers Trophy.

The Business of Fancydancing
Alexie wrote the screen play for this movie and directed it.
Appearances vs. Reality
Sherman Alexie
Novelist, Poet, Screenwriter
• Junior describes himself in various ways:
• “And I started wearing glasses when I was three, so I ran aorund the rex looking like a three-year old grandpa.”
• “And, oh, I was skinny. I’d turn sideways and disappear.”
• “But my hands and feet were huge. […] I looked like a capital L walking down the road. And my skull was enormous” (Alexie 3).
• This is how we are first introduced to Junior, and it paints a distinct picture of him.
• Vogel states that “Junior’s early fixation on his large head, his grotesque glasses, his clumsiness, and his hopeless stammer sets the stage for significant change later on in the story” (108).

Trailer for
Smoke Signals
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
published in 2007

winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature

Boston Globe-Horn Book Award recipient
("Sherman Alexie")
War Dances
published in 2009

PEN/Faulkner Award recipient
("Sherman Alexie")
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
published in 1993

a collection of short stories

Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award recipient

This collection of stories serves as the basis for
Smoke Signals
("Sherman Alexie")
Reservation Blues
published in 1994

Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award recipient
Other Titles Include:
("Sherman Alexie")
Ten Little Indians
This collection contains "What You Pawn, I will Redeem," a story that Alexie considers to be "the best thing [he] has ever written" (Alexie, Sherman Alexie)
The Toughest Indian in the World
Sherman Alexie
Poetry Collections Include:
Trailer for
The Business of Fancydancing
The Business of Fancydancing
Seven Mourning Songs for the Cedar Flute I Have Yet to Learn to Play
( 1994)
One Stick Song
Dangerous Astronomy
Face: Poems
• In exploring the themes of identity, Sherman Alexie presents another important idea to the reader.
• According to Tammy Wahpeconiah, “Scholarship focusing on Alexie covers the variety of issues he himself tackles in his writing. Issues of identity, the use (and subversion of) stereotypes, […] are all address in the multiplicity of analyses of Alexie’s work.”
• In the novel, multiple characters are at first shown as stereotypical tropes that have become familiar to readers of Young Adult fiction.
• Alexie strips away the superficial layers to get to the truth of the character.

When some of the characters appear in the novel, we have certain expectations of them. As the story progresses, Alexie takes our expectations and turns them around on us.

(Wahpeconiah and Lewis)
• As a Native American writer, Alexie is no stranger to the stereotypes of Native Americans. For example, on is own website he chooses to broadcast this careless statement: "Sherman looked more Indian when his hair was long" -- a woman on Facebook. He does not shy away from the conflict of culture, but instead embraces it through his writing ("Home").

• In fact, Alexie is celebrated for his no-nonsense, head-on portrayal of cultural clashes in history and modern day America.
“Each of these [Alexie’s]works explores, among other things, reservation and urban Indian life, often in biographical or quasi-biographical ways, ranging across the centuries of American history in ways that often conflate past, present, and future to make clear the conflicted position of Indians in America and offer a pointed critique of racism and stereotypes, but almost always leavened with Alexie’s sharp sense of humor “ (Wilson and Lewis 5).

• Particularly in An Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior feels trapped between the Native American and “white” culture of Rearden High as many adolescents who identify with a subculture and battle resulting stereotypes on a daily basis.
“The novel gives a glimpse into the emotional gymnastics of its young protagonist attempting to fit in as he navigates unfamiliar cultural terrain” (Knoeller).

Alexie's Exploration of Community and Identity
Alexie's Exploration of Community and Identity
• Alexie breaks stereotypes of Native American culture through Junior’s voice and experiences
Junior’s intelligence is celebrated
“I was way smarter than 99% of the others. And not just smart for an Indian, okay? I was smart period” (Alexie 84)
Junior and his family are portrayed as ambitious, just lacking opportunity
Ex: His mom is smart, but lacked educational opportunities; his dad is musically gifted; his sister is academically gifted per Mr. P and even dreamed of being a writer
The white community is shown to have the same issues as the Native American community, just in different symptoms.
Ex: Penelope’s bulimia (Alexie 107), absent parents (Alexie 53), dads who become their chairs (Alexie 153),
Junior finds strength an love in his family.
Ex: His parents attend all of his basketball games; his grandmother supports his decision to attend Reardon, he loves and admires his sister.
Ex: Mr. P relates the tragedy of trying to force Native Americans in losing their culture is a tragedy and feels extreme guilt for his participation.
When Eugene dies, Junior expresses “Well, of course, man. We Indians have LOST EVERYTHING…” but later after his classmates stand up for him, he feels like dancing and singing. He reclaims his culture as part of his healing.

Alexie's Exploration of Community and Identity
• “If The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian were to be read as memoir, it would likely be described as a “success story,” particularly success achieved by overcoming adversity that involves poverty and racial prejudice” (McFarland).

Alexie's Exploration of Community and Identity
Appearances vs.

Appearances vs. Reality
Appearances vs. Reality
Appearances vs. Reality
Appearances vs. Reality
Birthday: October 1966

Tribe: Spokane/Couer d'Alene

grew up on the Spokane Indian
Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington

attended Jesuit Gonzaga University
in 1985

transferred to Washington State
University in 1987, began writing
poetry and attained a BA in
American studies

1998, appeared on the PBS
Leher News Hour Dialogue on
Race with President Clinton

has been featured on
Politically Incorrect, 60
Minutes II, and NOW with
Bill Moyers

(Alexie, "Sherman Alexie")
(Alexie, "Sherman Alexie")
In his acceptance speech for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Alexie stated that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is "about seventy-eight percent true...[r]ounding down." As a result of the novels wide acceptance and popularity, he said that "it feels like [his] story, [his] choices, have been validated."
The Novel as an Autobiography
Appearances vs. Reality
Appearances vs. Reality
When we first encounter Penelope, Junior feels belittled by her because she and some of her friends make fun of his name.
Junior also describes her in a stereotypical way: “I was suddenly aware that she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen up close. She was movie star pretty” (Alexie,
The Absolutely True Diary
We learn that Penelope is one of the most popular girls in school, and this first impression of her cements are opinions of who we think she is or who she should be.


However as the novel progresses, Alexie gives us another glimpse of Penelope outside of the expectations of society and the high school labels.
It is revealed that Penelope suffers from bulimia and that she is scared all the time. Junior is the first person that she reveals all this to, and then they go against expectations and start dating each other (Alexie,
The Absolutely True Diary
Alexie is showing the reader that there are certain expectations or stereotypes placed on people, even the reader falls into the same trap. He reminds everyone that there is a real person beyond that, who has their own issues, likes, dislikes, and feelings.
This particular theme resonates through many of the other characters like Roger, the bully, who turns about to be kind and encourages Junior when he joins the basketball team.
Gordy, the bookworm/nerdy best friend, who Junior describes as someone “[who] tutored me and challenged me, but he made me realize that hard work -- that the act of finishing, of completing, of accomplishing a task is joyous” (Alexie,
The Absolutely True Diary
Everyone including Junior accepts that they are beyond the Young Adult fiction tropes pressed upon these characters. They do not accept the labels placed upon them. Alexie shows that each character is multi-faceted and that we as readers must look beyond those expectations.
Mark Vogel sums it up best: “Knowing that he loves, and is loved by, many of his peers, he is now a member of multiple tribes […] This acceptance of new labels is typical as young adults expand the circle from neighborhood and family to the larger world” (121).
Book covers: www.barnesandnoble.com
The Novel as an Autobiography
Through the creation of art, both Arnold and Alexie find a way to cope with life’s tragedies, a way to share life’s joys and a way “to talk to the world” (Alexie,
The Absolutely True Diary
Arnold draws cartoons because “the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and [his] cartoons are tiny little life boats” (Alexie,
The Absolutely True Diary
6). Through his cartoons, Arnold is able make meaning of the people and events in his life.
For Alexie, his success with poetry has given him the “incentive to quite drinking” and to remain sober (“Sherman Alexie”).
The Novel as an Autobiography
In an attempt to find hope, both Arnold and Alexie make the difficult decision to leave to the reservation school and go to the all white Reardan High School.
In the book, Mr. P tells Arnold that he will find hope “the farther and farther [he] walk[s] away from this sad, sad, sad reservation” (Alexie,
The Absolutely True Diary
43). After much thought, Arnold decides that he needs to “run away” from the reservation in order to “find something,” in order to find hope (Alexie,
The Absolutely True Diary
46). As a result of this decision, much of his tribe considers him a “traitor” (Alexie,
The Absolutely True Diary
In an interview on Conversations at KCTS 9, Alexie describes the decision to leave reservation as a “move away from [and] a move away from isolation” as well as being “an embrace of the world and all of the possibilities in the world.” He goes on to talk about being labeled an “apple-red on the outside, white on the inside” as a result of love of reading, education and his desire to search for more out of life off of the reservation. Alexie was threatened and insulted to the point were he seldom ever even left his house (“Sherman Alexie|Conversations at KCTS”)

The Novel as an Autobiography
For both Arnold and Alexie, alcoholism acts as a malevolent being that nearly kills hope.
In the novel, Arnold loses three important people in alcohol related accident. These incidents make him feel as though “every planet in [his] solar system has exploded” (Alexie,
The Absolutely True Diary
213). As a result, he knows that he “was never going to drink and…never going to kill [him]self and…[that he] was going to have a better life out in the white world” (Alexie,
The Absolutely True Diary
Alexie has dealt with the negative affects of alcohol his whole life. During his first year attending Reardan, Alexie actually lost eight people. His father died due to alcohol related kidney disease. Alexie, himself, was an alcoholic until he found success with his poetry (“Sherman Alexie|Conversations at KCTS). Alexie considers his attempts to "assimilate into mainstream North American society" to be a trigger of his alcoholism ("Sherman Alexie").

The Novel as an Autobiography
Both Arnold and Alexie are “nomads” in that they leave the Reservation in search of something more out of life, in search of hope. They both refuse to be trapped in the “prison” that is the reservation (Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary 217).
At the end of Arnold’s freshman year, Rowdy says to him, “You’re the nomadic one…You’re an old-time nomad…You’re going to keep moving all over the world in search of food and water and grazing land” (Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary 229-230).
In an interview with TIME, Alexie said that “the reservation is a white creation” and, as “a writing nomad,” he could be viewed as “more traditional” than many other Native Americans due to his choice to leave the reservation (“10 Questions for Sherman Alexie”).

("Sherman Alexie")
Alexie has published twelve volumes of poetry, four collections of short stories, and three novels. He has also written two screen plays ("Sherman Alexie").
Arnold Spirit vs. Sherman Alexie
Both were born with “water on the brain (hydrocephalic), leading to surgery at six months and many other health concerns.
Both love reading and school.
Both were a target for bullying on the Rez.
Both were talented basketball players.
Arnold has one sibling; Alexie has five.
Arnold finds his mother’s name in his ninth grade geometry textbook. Alexie found his mother’s name in his seventh grade math book.
Arnold transfers to Reardan within a short time of making the decision. Alexie waited a whole year to transfer, building up the confidence to act by telling himself everyday that he needed to transfer schools.
When Arnold sees his mother’s name in his textbook, he throws the book, accidentally breaking his teacher’s nose. In reality, Alexie threw the book at the wall. He has said that he finds the breaking of the nose to much more cathartic than reality.

(“Sherman Alexie|Conversations at KCTS)
"10 Questions for Sherman Alexie." Time. Time Inc., 18 Oct. 2012. Web. 21 Mar. 2015.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
. New York: Little Brown, 2007.

Alexie, Sherman. "Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Acceptance." Boston Globe-Horn Book Award
Acceptance. The Horn Book Magazine, 2011. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.

Alexie, Sherman.
Sherman Alexie
. FallsApart Productions, Inc., 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

Knoeller, Christian. “A First Opinion: Breaking Down Stereotypes of Contemporary American
Indians” First Opinions, Second Reactions 1.2 (September 2008): 25-26. Web. 5 March 2015.
This article reviews Alexie’s representation of Native American culture in contrast to the stereotypes prevalent in society. He does not shy away from messy topics such as interracial relationships, suicide, and alcoholism. It also addresses Alexie’s inclusion of sexual innuendo, a common victim to banning by teachers, but a celebrated use of voice for literary critics.

McFarland, Ron. "Sherman Alexie." Critical Survey Of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition (2010): 1-4.
Literary Reference Center. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.
This article provides a brief overview of Alexie and analysis of his major works, including The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. McFarland introduces the plot, biographical elements, novella format, and purposeful cartoons. The article digs a little deeper into the dichotomy of Junior’s perspective of a Native American navigating two cultures
"Sherman Alexie." Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.

"Sherman Alexie | CONVERSATIONS AT KCTS 9." YouTube. KTCS 9, 12 Nov. 2008. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

Vogel, Mark, and Leon Lewis. "Half Child/Half Adult: Sherman Alexie's Hybrid Young Adult
Fiction." Critical Insights: Sherman Alexie(2011): 106-125. Literary Reference Center. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.
Mark Vogel examines the way Alexie’s take on Young Adult fiction and how it portrays common issues for young people like the search for identity and desire for belonging. He notices the way humor and realism is used throughout the novel is important for young adult readers to see, whether than being preached to. For Vogel, Alexie brings a refreshing point of view to young adult literature that brings a voice to Native Americans but also people who do not have many opportunities. He also believes that “In both Flight and Part-Time Indian he provides a service by showing how Indian young adults can find a self with a grace that reflects a future. Because their stories are linked to troubling history, both books are more than simple stories of teens finding their identities. There is joy in both stories, and a sense of possibility” (121). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian offers more than just a typical young adult story; it is about perseverance and understanding one’s self.

Wahpeconiah, Tammy, and Leon Lewis. "Postmodern Magic, Traditional Rage: The Critical
Reception Of Sherman Alexie's Work."Critical Insights: Sherman Alexie (2011): 87-105. Literary Reference Center. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.
In Wahpeconiah’s article, she provides a brief biography of the author’s life that will give some insight into his writing. She also chronicles Alexie’s various works and the various analysis of his works about common themes that appear in his poetry and novels over and over again like: “Issues of identity, the use (and subversion) of stereotypes, the influence of popular culture and the media, the importance of orality in Native American tradition, and the significance of humor as a method of survival for Indian people” (87). She discusses how his work addresses a wide range of themes and how they are interpreted by critics.

Wilson, Michael, and Leon Lewis. "Doesn't Everybody Belong To A Subculture?" Community And
History In Sherman Alexie's Writing." Critical Insights: Sherman Alexie (2011): 53-69. Literary Reference Center. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.

This article describes Alexie’s vast literary contributions from everything to slam poetry to adult fiction. His work is tightly bound to his experiences and identity as an American Indian. His relationship with his Native American community has been tested through his writing because many American Indians feel he has been too honest about their culture’s personal struggles. Alexie maintains his intentions to promote understanding of his subculture as to inspire others to identify with the positive and negative aspects of their own subcultures.

In his acceptance speech for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Alexie briefly discusses the autobiographical nature of
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
. He asserts that to live life on his reservation was to live life in a monoculture, with the majority of the people leaving there being related in some way. This is what made his decision to leave the reservation and go to Reardan a "crazy, wonderful, heroic, insane, cross-cultural, cross-racial, cross-class decision." He then talks about why he thinks the novel is so popular: "pretty much every teenager...feels pretty dang isolated and pretty dang misunderstood," so they can relate to Arnold in his isolation and his being misunderstood.
This is Sherman Alexie's website. On this site, he has a brief biography. He also has information about several of his publication as well as links to the ebook versions for purchase. There is a link to his blog on which he posts sporadically. In addition, there are video links to his television appearances.
This article provides a biography of Sherman Alexie. It begins by providing a brief overview of the many accolades that Alexie has received. It then briefly describes his early life on the reservation and his time in college. The author discusses the irony and dark humor that is often employed by Alexie as a means of exposing the negative forces that often shape the lives the Native Americans living on reservations, exposing to the public a life that in the past has been a "pretty under-described experience." The article concludes by providing a bibliography and a list for further reading.
In this interview for TIME, Alexie addresses several questions related to both his culture and his life. He discusses the desire of some Native Americans to latch on to and present themselves as traditionalists as a means of appearing to adhere to the few positive Native American stereotypes. He goes on to talk about alcoholism and his decision to stay sober as a result of receiving the acceptance letter for his first book of poetry. He discusses the idea that reservations were created as prisons that were initially meant to keep Native Americans contained, but now, many choose to imprison themselves on those reservations. As a result, Alexie has spent very little of his adult life on the reservation. He believes that, in a way, the fact that he travels so much around the country makes him more of traditionalist because he is nomadic.
In this interview, Alexie discusses the problem of alcoholism that has affected his life and the lives of so many Native Americans, asserting that this problem is "epidemic among Native Americans". He talks about his early life, including his health problems, the ostracization that he experienced due to his health problems and his thirst for books and knowledge, and growing up extremely poor. One positive that he attributes to his health issues was the fact that his will to survive was made stronger due to those struggles. He discusses his decision to transfer to Reardan High School, his expectations, and the reality of the transfer both on the reservation and at Reardan. He then discusses his life after high school, including how he got inspired to become a writer. He concludes with a discussion of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time India, the reasons that he believes it is a success, and the impact that the novel has had in both his life and in the lives of young adults.
African American
Alice Walker -
The Color Purple
Sharon G. Flake - The Skin I'm In
Angela Johnson -
Toning the Sweep
Walter Dean Myers
Jaqueline Woodson
Christopher Paul Curtis
Other Young Adult Authors and Books that Take on Stereotypes
Latin American
Sandra Cisneros -
House on Mango Street
Francisco Jimenez -
Breaking Through
Viola Canales -
Tequila Worm
Matt de la Pena
Gary Soto
Stephen Chbosky -
The Perks of
Being a Wallflower
Ellen Hopkins -
Perry Moore -
David Levithan
Alex Sanchez
Religious Sects
Chaim Potok -
The Chosen
Sheri Reynolds -
The Rapture of Canaan
Cherylon Teel
Myeleka Waskington
Angela Willingham
ENG 6010
Dr. McFarland

An awesome spoken word poem addressing stereotypes:
Full transcript