Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
June 17, 2000 - Issue 12

Sherman Alexie
Editor's Note: Canku Ota would like to thank both Sherman Alexie and Christy
for providing us with this information.
For more about Sherman, visit his website at
The Official Sherman Alexie Site

"We are more than just writers. We are (Native) storytellers. We are spokespeople. We are cultural ambassadors. We are politicians. We are activists. We are all of this simply by nature of what we do, without even wanting to be."

Sherman J. Alexie, Jr. was born in October 1966. He is a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian (he prefers to be called an Indian, finding Native American a "guilty white liberal term") born and raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, about 50 miles from Spokane. His father held various jobs, including truck driver and logger and his mother was a social worker. Alexie was born hydrocephalic and underwent a brain operation at the age of 6 months, but was not expected to survive. When he did beat the odds, doctors predicted he would live with severe mental retardation. Although spared this, he did suffer through seizures and bed-wetting throughout his childhood. Preferring to stay inside (or occasionally hide in the rocks on the reservation), he developed a love for reading, reading Steinbeck as a five-year-old. As a young adult, Alexie faced a new problem: alcoholism. Alcohol plagued his life for five years before he became sober at 23.

He attended high school at Reardan High where he was "the only Indian...except for the school mascot." Alexie graduated with honors and planned to be a doctor until he "fainted three times in human anatomy class and needed a career change." That change was fueled when Alexie stumbled into a poetry workshop at Washington State University in Pullman. He attended Gonzaga University in Spokane on a scholarship and graduated in American Studies from Washington State.

Shortly after the publication of his first book, The Business of Fancydancing-a collection of poetry and stories-Alexie was described as "one of the major lyric voices of our time" in the New York Times Book Review, which selected the book as a "1992 Notable Book of the Year." In that same year, Alexie received a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship. In 1998 and 1999, Alexie won the World Heavyweight Champion Poetry Bout at the Taos Poetry Circus, and he won the 1999 New York Heavyweight Poetry Bout. Alexie's several books of poetry include Old Shirts & New Skins, The Summer of Black Widows, and One Stick Song.

Alexie's first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, published in 1994, received the 1994 Great Lakes College Association Award for Best First Book of Fiction and was a citation winner for the PEN/Hemmingway Award for Best First Fiction. In the same year, he also earned a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award.

Alexie's first novel, Reservation Blues, published in 1995, was selected as a Booklist Editor's Choice Award for Fiction, and was awarded an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, in 1996. His most recent novel, Indian Killer, published in 1998, was a New York Times Notable Book and was selected as one of ten "Best of Pages" titles by People magazine. For his skilled fiction writing, Alexie was named one of Granta magazine's "Twenty Best American Novelists Under the Age of Forty."

In June, 1999, The New Yorker acknowledged Alexie as one of the top writers for the 21st Entury. He was one of twenty writers featured in the magazine's Summer fiction Edition, "20 Writers for the 21st Century."

Alexie's first screenplay, Smoke Signals, based on the book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, became the first feature film produced, written and directed by American Indians. It premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy. Smoke Signals also received the 1999 Christopher Award. Alexie was nominated for the Independent Feature Project/West 1999 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay. Alexie has said the the main characters in Smoke Signals, Victor and Thomas, are very much his alter-egos.

Alexie is currently serving as a Creative Advisor to the Sundance Institute Writers Fellowship Program.

A poet and author known for his exceptional lyricism and humor, Alexie made his stand-up debut at the Foolproof Northwest Comedy Festival in April 1999, and was the featured performer at the Vancouver International Comedy Festival's opening night gala in July 1999.

Alexie has a new collection of short stories, The Toughest Indian in the World, published by Atlantic Montly Press, and a new collection of poetry and essays, One Stick Song, published by Hanging Loose Press. This month he will return to the Taos Poetry Circus to defend his World Champion Poetry Bout title. He is currently working on the screenplay adaptation of his novel Reservation Blues, which he will also direct and co-produce.

Alexie and his wife, Diane, live in Seattle with their son. In his spare time, the six-foot-two Alexie still likes to play basketball and has joked that he would willingly trade his literary career to be the 12th man on any NBA team.

"I know I have so much left to say and I don't know how much time I have left to say it all."

Sherman Alexie Bibliography:

  • One Stick Song, poetry, Hanging Loose Press, 2000
  • Toughest Indian in the World, stories, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000
  • Smoke Signals, screenplay, Miramax-Hyperion Books, 1998
  • The Man Who Loves Salmon, poetry, limited edition chapbook, Limberlost Press, 1996
  • Indian Killer, novel, Warner Books, 1998
  • The Summer of Black Widows, poetry, Hanging Loose Press 1996
  • Water Flowing Home, poetry, limited edition chapbook, Limberlost Press, 1996
  • Reservation Blues, novel, Warner Books, 1995
  • Seven Mourning Songs for the Cedar Flute I have Yet to Learn to Play, poetry, limited edition chapbook, Whitman College Press, 1995
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, stories, Harper Perennial, 1994
  • First Indian on the Moon, poetry, Hanging Loose Press, 1993
  • Old Shirts and New Skins, poetry, UCLA Press, 1993
  • I Would Steal Horses, poetry, limited edition chapbook, Slipstream Press, 1993
  • The Business of Fancydancing, poetry, Hanging Loose Press, 1992

For more information about Alexie, visit his official site at:

The Official Sherman Alexie Site

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