TEACHER, AUTHOR, EDUblogger "I want to (read and) write books that unblock the traffic jam in everyone's mind." ~J. Updike
Sherman Alexie on Living Outside Cultural Borders
April 12, 2013
Writer Sherman Alexie describes living in two different cultures at the same time.
BILL MOYERS: Let’s talk now with Sherman Alexie. He comes from a long line of people who have lived the consequences of inequality, Native Americans, the first Americans. They were the target of genocide, ethnic cleansing, which for years was the hidden history of America, kept in the closet by the authors and enforcers of white mythology.
How do you grapple with such a long denied history? If you are Sherman Alexie, you face it down with candor and even irreverence, writing poems, novels, and short stories, and even movies. Here’s a clip from “Smoke Signals” that Alexie wrote and co-produced in 1998:
VICTOR IN SMOKE SIGNALS: You got to look mean or people won’t respect you. White people will run all over you if you don’t look mean. You got to look like a warrior. You got to look like you just came back from killing a buffalo.
THOMAS IN SMOKE SIGNALS: But our tribe never hunted buffalo, we were fishermen.
VICTOR IN SMOKE SIGNALS: What? You want to look like you just came back from catching a fish? This ain’t “Dances with Salmon,” you know.
BILL MOYERS: Alexie has published 22 books of poetry and fiction, including “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” “War Dances,” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” a book for young adults and winner of the National Book Award. His latest work is a collection of short stories, old and new, with the title, “Blasphemy.” I’ll ask him why.
He now lives in Seattle, like many of his characters who left the reservation for the city, living in between, and traveling across boundaries both real and imagined.
Sherman Alexie on Living Outside Cultural Border.
Born on a Native American reservation, Sherman Alexie has been navigating the cultural boundaries of American culture in lauded poetry, novels, short stories, screenplays, even stand-up comedy for over two decades. Alexie joins Bill to share his irreverent perspective on contemporary American life, and discuss the challenges of living in two different cultures at the same time, especially when one has so much dominance over the other.
“I know a lot more about being white than you know about being Indian,” Alexie tells Bill.
Alexie’s latest collection of stories, Blasphemy, was published in October, 2012. He joins us for an online live chat on Tuesday, April 16 @ 1 pm. Get details and submit your questions.
Interview Producer: Gail Ablow.
Editors: Rob Kuhns & Andrew M.I. Lee.
Associate Producer: Robert Booth.
Photographer: Alton Christensen.
Sherman Alexie has got to be one of my all time favorite writers. He writes outside the box that readers and critics are always attempting to put the multicultural writer into. Much like Junot Diaz, my other favorite, he’s able to see things the way they are and doesn’t seem to be afraid to let the the emperor know he’s naked.
My favorite story of Alexie’ s is not the one that many readers think of right away when Alexie’ s name is mentioned. For me, his story of ‘Zits’ is a Masterpiece of truth-telling wrapped in a fantastical and eye-opening, time traveling twisted bow.For the past nine years of his life, he(Zits) has been bounced around from neglectful family members and through abusive foster homes. His Irish-American mother died from breast cancer when he was six years old. Zits’ Native-American father left the family when Zits was born. In a most poetic way, he describes himself as “a blank sky, a human solar eclipse,” not belonging to anyone and no one belonging to him.
In the April 25, 2007 New York Times book review of “Flight,” S. Kirk Walsh brilliantly writes:
“Many of these allegorical, action-packed vignettes tread familiar thematic territory — the continuing fight for survival, the anger of racial divides, the absence of fathers — of Mr. Alexie’s earlier works, like “Indian Killer” and “Ten Little Indians.” But with “Flight,” he takes these themes a step further: he skillfully explores both sides of the proverbial war. Zits witnesses brutal violence through the eyes of whites and Indians, fathers and sons, and he begins to understand what it means to be the hero, the villain and the victim.”
If you haven’t read this fantastic novella, please do. I don’t believe you will regret it. It manages to do just what I like in a good book, “unblock the traffic jams in everyone’s mind.”
For the few that may not have read or heard about Sherman Alexie, here is a bonus interview via TIME MAGAZINE, October 2
A metaphor is like a simile.