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Sherman Alexie


84 page collection of poems and short stories ... rage to playful humor and biting sarcasm, love poems and songs' (Grassian 15) ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie
  • Author of novels, poems, short prose, films, and

A Short Bio
  • Born in Wellpinit, WA in 1966
  • Spokane Indian Reservation
  • Born hydrocephalic (water on the brain), had
    surgery at 6 months, not expected to survive.
  • Read Grapes of Wrath at 5 years old!!!
  • Ostracized by other children on the reservation
  • Decided to attended high school in Reardan (away
    from the reservation, only Indian child)

Short Bio (cont.)
  • After graduating high school, he attended Gonzaga
    University in Spokane, in 1985.
  • Dropped out of school after 2 years due to heavy
  • Was robbed at knife point
  • Went back to school (Washington State University)
  • Initially wanted to be a doctor but Alex Kuo
    inspired him to write poetry.
  • 1991 he finished his bachelors degree in
    American Studies.

  • The Business of Fancydancing, 1992.
  • First Published Work
  • 84 page collection of poems and short stories
  • Many read it as semi-autobiographical ranging
    from themes of drunken rage to playful humor and
    biting sarcasm, love poems and songs (Grassian
  • In regards to this title, Ambiguity immediately
    appears in the title poem of the
    collection...Fancydancing is a traditional form
    of Native American dance that allows a single
    dancer to display his or her skill or cunning.
    At the same time it is a staged performance. The
    fancydancer is sly, intelligent, and able to
    outwit his oppressors. The modifier business
    suggest a colder economic reality, as if the
    fancydance itself has deteriorated from a high
    cultural art into a cold, economic necessity,
    possibly commodified by Western culture. It
    suggests that what was once and art has become a
    business and that the fancydancer, in this case
    the individual engaging in what should be a
    cherished, valued, cultural act, is using it for
    selfish aggrandizement, a kind of masquerade for
    money (Grassian 16).

  • The Business of Fancydancing (film), 2002.
  • Seymour Polatkin is a successful, gay Indian poet
    from Spokane who confronts his past when he
    returns to his childhood home on the reservation
    to attend the funeral of a dear friend.
  • Smoke Signals (Film), 1999.
  • Based on a few short stories from The Lone Ranger
    and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.
  • One theme recognized is the forgiving of fathers,
    both biological and forefathers of this country.
  • Tells the story of the relationship between a
    father and his son. The story unfolds as Victor
    Joseph and another young man from the Indian
    reservation, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, set off to
    collect Arnold Josephs pick-up truck and ashes
    from Arizona after Arnold has died. The two men
    remember Victors father along the way, but their
    recollections are very different from each other.
    Victor learns many things about his father during
    his journey and, in the end, begins to
    understand, forgive, and grieve his loss.

Novels Short Stories
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,
  • a thinly disguised memoir (Alexie, xix).
  • The theme of alcoholism is heavily reflected in
    this book of short stories. Every story talks
    about alcoholism in some way In the first story,
    Every Little Hurricane, the weather symbolizes
    the effects of alcohol abuse and its destruction
    of the people in the community. A Drug Called
    Tradition, suggests that Indians should not
    accept alcoholism as a way of life and should
    replace it with a quest for their native
  • Reservation Blues
  • The Ten Little Indians
  • The Indian Killer,1996
  • Flight,2007

Novels Short stories (cont.)
  • Indian Killer, 1996
  • Serial killer in Seattle scalps white men
  • Causes major racial tension amongst whites and
    Native Americans.
  • Theme of true identity appears through character
    who is part Indian and not seen as being true to
    the race.
  • Flight, 2007
  • Maybe argued as a YA text.
  • Teenager on the verge of committing a violent
  • Orphaned Indian boy who travels back and forth
    through time in a violent search for his true

Critical Debates Concerninghis Work
  • Despite his early praise of The Lone Ranger and
    Tonto, for example, Louis Owens finds that
    Alexie's fiction
  • too often simply reinforces all of
    the stereotypes desired by white readers his
    bleakly absurd and aimless Indians are imploding
    in a passion of self-destructiveness and
    self-loathing there is no family or community
    center toward which his characters ... might turn
    for coherence and in the process of
    self-destruction the Indians provide Euramerican
    readers with pleasurable moments of dark humor
    or the titillation of bloodthirsty savagery.
    Above all, the non-Indian reader of Alexie's work
    is allowed to come away with a sense ... that
    no one is really to blame but the Indians, no
    matter how loudly the author shouts his anger.

  • Considered from another critical angle, Alexie's
    artistry, I believe, may be seen as that of a
    consciously moral satirist rather than as a
    "cultural traitor." In fact, a close examination
    of Alexie's work to date shows that he uses the
    meliorative social and moral values inherent in
    irony and satire, as well as certain conventional
    character types (including the prejudicial
    stereotype of the "drunken Indian") as materials
    for constructing a realistic literary document
    for contemporary Indian survival.

  • Bird faults the novel, for example, for what she
    terms its "cinematic" narrative technique,
    whereby Alexie connects "scenes" via tawdry
    remnants of (white) popular culture, likening him
    to an "Indian Spike Lee" (47-48). She contends
    that, like the portrayals of African American
    individuals and culture in Lee's films, much of
    the structure and ethos of Reservation Blues
    depends on readers' knowledge of popular culture,
    including film, to be successful this reliance,
    Bird argues, distorts, debases, and falsifies
    Indian culture and literature at the same time
    that it reinforces mainstream notions of Indian

Response from the author
  • Native American alcoholism is a controversial
    subject many people (based on Hollywood films
    like the Comancheros, which starred John Wayne)
    still harbor stereotypes about "drunk Indians"
    being passed out on reservations without thinking
    about how the alcohol first got there and why
    some Indians started drinking. (43) Sherman
    Alexie openly addressed this issue
  • When the book The Lone Ranger and Tonto
    Fistfight in Heaven
  • was first published, I was (and continue to
    be) vilified in
  • certain circles for my alcohol-soaked stories.
  • them, I suppose my critics have a point.
    Everybody in this
  • book which the film is based on is drunk or
    in love with
  • a drunk. And in writing about drunk Indians, I
    am dealing
  • with stereotypical material. But I can only
    respond with
  • the truth. In my family, counting parents,
    siblings, and
  • dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins, there
    are less than a
  • dozen who are currently sober and only a few
    who have
  • never drank. When I write about the
    destructive effects of
  • alcohol on Indians, I am not writing out of a
    literary stance
  • or a colonized mind's need to reinforce
    stereotypes. I am
  • writing autobiography. (44)