Sherman Alexie: By the Book, New York Times
O’siyo. Famous Native author Sherman Alexie is a member of the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene people. In addition to being a writer (he’s written 22 books) Alexie is also a poet and filmmaker. His newest books are Blasphemy, a collection of short stories and What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned, a book of poems. Nearly all of his books draw on his experiences growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. The following is an excerpt of an interview by the New York Times of the prolific writer who reveals an interesting side of his personality.
NYT: What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?
SA: Lawrence Wright’s “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief.” It’s an examination of one cult religion but can also be read as a primer on the basic cultlike nature of all religions.
NYT: Who are your favorite novelists?
SA: My favorite novelists and short-story writers are Louise Erdrich, Michael Connelly, Lorrie Moore, James Welch, Toni Morrison, Dennis Lehane, Kelly Link, David Markson, Mo Hayder, Ralph Ellison, Leslie Marmon Silko, Aimee Bender, Jim Carroll and Colin Harrison.
NYT: And your favorite poets?
SA: James Wright, Erica Dawson, Emily Dickinson, C. K. Williams, Ai, Adrian C. Louis, Catherine Pierce, James Welch and A. E. Stallings.
NYT: Any new books by Native American authors you would recommend? And your all-time favorite literary works by Native Americans?
SA: Stephen Graham Jones, a Blackfeet Indian, has written tons of sci-fi, horror, crime and experimental fiction. He’s not new but should certainly be read by many more people. My favorite work of Native American literature is “Ceremony,” by Leslie Marmon Silko.
NYT: What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you steer clear of?
SA: I tend to read books that feature crime, criminals and justice. I stay clear of any book with “Native American spirituality” in the description.
NYT: What book has had the greatest impact on you?
SA: “Fire Water World: Poems,” by Adrian C. Louis. It’s the best example of free-verse Reservation Noir ever. And remains one of my guideposts.
NYT: Do you have a favorite childhood literary character or hero?
SA: Daredevil, the Man Without Fear. A blind and very mortal superhero. I pretended he was part Indian.
NYT: If you could meet any character from literature, who would it be?
“Everyone I have lost
in the closing of a door
the click of the lock
is not forgotten, they
do not die but remain
within the soft edges
of the earth, the ash
of house fires and cancer
in sin and forgiveness
huddled under old blankets
dreaming their way into
my hands, my heart
closing tight like fists.
- “Indian Boy Love Song #1”
~Sherman Alexie~ The Business of Fancy Dancing
“If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one’s chances of survival increase with each book one reads.”
“Life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community.”
“When it comes to death, we know that laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing.”
“If you’re good at it, and you love it, and it helps you navigate the river of the world, then it can’t be wrong.”
“Kindness takes you everywhere. It’s the best part of human evolution; when we aren’t kind, we’re regressing back to our primitive roots.”
~Sherman Alexie~ Interview Parent Map, 2012.
Kudos to Sherman Alexie for continuing to be a great role-model for young people.
A special “Wado” to Professor G.R. of Brandeis University for sending us email about this article. Much Appreciation.
There are many legends about how the Indians learned about the Talking Feather/Talking Stick. Here is one of them…
Long years ago, when gods walked this earth and the land beyond, Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei, were together enjoying the warm summer day. It was a day when the crickets chirrupted in the waving, green grass,when they noticed a figure moving towards them.
As the figure approached closer Kanati said “Look, that woman is crying, what could be the matter?” “I can not imagine why anyone would cry on such a glorious day.” Replied Asgaya Gigagei. “Let’s ask her.”
As the woman drew nearer, they could see her buckskin was decorated with beautiful designs and colors. She carried a bundle filled with leaves, sage, and colorful stones and feathers. They knew immediately this woman was a holy being.
Kanati asked her “Holy mother, why are you crying so?” The woman looked up in wonder, because she had been walking with her head down. “I’m crying because the men of my village are fighting constantly! Each thinks his ideas for leading the tribe is the best!” Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei glanced at one another, in perplexity. “Why, if there are so many good ideas for leading your tribe, why are the men fighting? And why aren’t you and the other members happy!” The poor woman shook her head sadly and replied, “Yes, you are right, the men do have very good ideas, but every man wants to speak his own ideas, and not listen to anyone else. They all shout and scream at one another so loudly, that it frightens the children who run and hide behind their mothers. The women are sad because their husbands come to the house upset and angry. Furthermore, the tribe is suffering, because no one can seem to make a decision.” Just then a beautiful Eagle was soaring overhead, Kanati called out “Brother Eagle, may I have one of your feathers, there are poor humans in desperate need!”
Bother Eagle replied “Yes” and shook himself until a single iridescent, large feather fell to the ground. “Many thanks and Blessings on you” said Kanati. Kanati made secret signs and prayers over the Feather. Asgaya Gigagei helped him with the blessings. Kanati then said to the woman “This is the sacred Talking Father, it holds great power for the one who holds it. Go back to your people, hold this feather up in the air, all who see it will fall silent, and listen to what you have to say. Tell all who listen that from now on, who ever holds this feather, all present within the Circle Council must listen to his words. The feather must then be passed on to the next speaker.”
The woman thanked Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei and hurried back to her village where there was total chaos!. Everyone was talking at once, children were crying, men were screaming at each other. As soon as she held the feather over her head, all became quiet! No one could utter a sound! the holy woman proceeded to give the directions given to her by the gods. She then passed the feather to the first man. He called the Talking Circle together, and each man had his say as he held the feather. From that time on that tribe flourished because they now had direction, and each person could hear and understand what their peers said. The people worked together, to build a great nation. Along the way, they shared the wonders of the Talking Feather with other tribes they met. “And that my friends is the true story of how the Talking Feather came to be!”