Sherman J. Alexie, Jr. Who?

One of my summer buddies was given Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians as a departing gift from her roommate. My friend spoke highly of the book, so I flipped through it and gave it back, never bothering to make a mental note. Nothing against my friend, I just had other things on my mind (I guess). Today in class, guess whose name showed up again? Sherman Alexie! We spent a little time reading his biography, but no where in that particular copy did I see mention of Ten Little Indians. Check for yourself. But I knew he had to be the same guy. Sadly, I only made my book/author connection because I don’t know any Native American authors and I just assumed there weren’t many.

My question to you, my faithful blog readers (if such a thing exists here), is can you name the last book you read by a Native American author? It is obvious they exist, but not only can I not name one author off the top of my head, but I don’t believe I’ve read any pieces (that I can remember) by said authors. Pardon my ignorance and shame.

Luckily, one of my first reading assignments of the semester is Sherman Alexie’s young adult work, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I haven’t purchased it yet though—because I don’t feel like standing in those ridiculous campus bookstore lines today. Instead, what I do have is a copy of my other assigned reading, Alexie’s New York Times short story “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.” If you’re really interested, you know you can always read the provided excerpt:

NOON

One day you have a home and the next you don’t, but I’m not going to tell you my particular reasons for being homeless, because it’s my secret story, and Indians have to work hard to keep secrets from hungry white folks.

I’m a Spokane Indian boy, an Interior Salish, and my people have lived within a hundred-mile radius of Spokane, Washington, for at least ten thousand years. I grew up in Spokane, moved to Seattle twenty-three years ago for college, flunked out after two semesters, worked various blue- and bluer-collar jobs, married two or three times, fathered two or three kids, and then went crazy. Of course, crazy is not the official definition of my mental problem, but I don’t think asocial disorder fits it, either, because that makes me sound like I’m a serial killer or something. I’ve never hurt another human being, or, at least, not physically. I’ve broken a few hearts in my time, but we’ve all done that, so I’m nothing special in that regard. I’m a boring heartbreaker, too. I never dated or married more than one woman at a time. I didn’t break hearts into pieces overnight. I broke them slowly and carefully. And I didn’t set any land-speed records running out the door. Piece by piece, I disappeared. I’ve been disappearing ever since.

I’ve been homeless for six years now. If there’s such a thing as an effective homeless man, then I suppose I’m effective. Being homeless is probably the only thing I’ve ever been good at. I know where to get the best free food. I’ve made friends with restaurant and convenience-store managers who let me use their bathrooms. And I don’t mean the public bathrooms, either. I mean the employees’ bathrooms, the clean ones hidden behind the kitchen or the pantry or the cooler. I know it sounds strange to be proud of this, but it means a lot to me, being trustworthy enough to piss in somebody else’s clean bathroom. Maybe you don’t understand the value of a clean bathroom, but I do. (Read more . . . )

I’m always good for an excerpt, huh?

So, this semester and next (due to unfulfilled English requirements) I will not be able to take any Africana courses. No black literature for me. How unfortunate. I will have the opportunity to read 19th and early 20th century American literature with minor black characters though. Close enough, right? Yeah. I’m giving myself the side-eye right now too. I’m also taking a Shakespeare course that I’m currently mumbling about under my breath. Might not be so bad though. I’ll keep ya’ll posted. Maybe we can all learn something.

Happy reading, ya’ll!

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5 thoughts on “Sherman J. Alexie, Jr. Who?

  1. this was a bomb little short-story; i guess it’s not really descriptive or original to say that i’d never thought of homelessness from this perspective, but it was the perfect expression of misplaced abilities – no one’s “good” at being homeless, he’s just good at something that perhaps society has prevented him from discovering . . .

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  2. Thanks for your reply. I’m always curious as to who reads all these excerpts I post. Good to know at least one person not only did it, but enjoyed it too!

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  3. Dear One – I have found you through Deesha, who is on my Gen X blog roll. I’ve been checking your blog out for awhile. Sherman Alexie – just a fantastic writer and human being. Thank you for blogging about him! He wrote a little known short story called “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona.” This went on to become a fantastic film – “Smoke Signals.” You may have heard of it. In addition, here is N. Scott Momaday – a native Oklahoman whose book, “House Made of Dawn” won the pulitzer (1969) It brought Native lit into the mainstream. I hail from Oklahoma, though he is not a household name here. Anyway, I’m loving your blog. I have been trying to find a great Native American blog to put on my Gen X blog roll, but I just have had no luck. It’s disheartening. My lifetime hero, Rich Mullins, was living with the Navaho at the time of his death. He wrote that Song, Awesome God. He gave his life to help the Natives (just some sidebar there).

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  4. I blogged a little about you and Sherman Alexie today. You might like to check it out. As much as I can recall you are in academia. You may be interested in this source I turned up about Gen X and Literature, and also Sherman Alexie (Daniel Grassain).

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  5. Dear Ms. Book Lover: First, a question. Where did you get that photograph of Sherman Alexie? Please reply by e-mail & Thanks.

    Next, a too-long reply: I’ve been reading Native American literature for almost 30 years…the last book I finished was “Grand Avenue” by Greg Sarris (Pomo–that’s a California tribe), which I highly recommend; now I’m reading “Glittering World” by Irvin Morris (Dine or Navajo), which might be tougher going for the uninitiated. Isn’t it amazing that you can’t get through a US education without reading something written by an African American (that late 19th/early 20th C. US lit. class should have included something by Charles Chesnutt, Paul Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, or Pauline Hopkins as well as a good selection of Harlem Renaissance writers or your professor should be locked in the library with stacks and stacks of this stuff until he or she surrenders and rewrites the syllabus). But anything you read about Indians is probably by white folks (and racists at that–take a fresh look at Little House on the Prairie if you want to be scandalized. Then pick up Louise Erdrich’s responses, for readers of the same age: The Birchbark House; The Game of Silence.

    There’s a truckload of books to discover. Perhaps your US Survey also included something by Sarah Winnemucca, Gertrude Bonnin, or Luther Standing Bear. If you want to find more, check out http://www.oyate.com. And happy reading!

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