In a country that has been established on the erasure of the native culture, there are a few beacons that shine in the dark. One such beacon is writer Sherman Alexie. A poet, novelist, and filmmaker, Alexie is effectively a jack of all creative trades, and master of most of them. He is a Native-American author from Spokane, Washington and spent his early life growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
He was born with hydrocephalus, a disorder wherin there is excess cerebral fluid in the cranial cavity. Due to this, Alexie had to undergo surgery at 6 months old and was not expected to survive, and even if he did, it was expected that he would suffer from mental disabilities as a result.
He survived the surgery and was left without major mental deficiencies, though he did suffer from seizures until he was 7, a complication from the condition. Some of his early life and the struggles he faced as a result of this condition are documented in his semi-autobiographical work the Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian.
Alexie is probably best known by his first prose work, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. The work is a collection of interconnected short stories with several recurring characters, notably Thomas Builds-the-Fire and Victor Joseph, and their lives on the Spokane Indian reservation.
The work depicts the struggles faced by Native Americans in a nation that seems adamantly opposed to their very survival. The title, according to Alexie, came to him in a dream. The title juxtaposes the personas of the anglo identity in diametric opposition to the persona of the native identity.
Through the interconnected stories, Alexie paints an artful picture of life in America for native people. The nuances of life on the reservation, the stuggles faced by the entire community, the perception of Native Americans by everyone outside the culture; all of these concepts are honestly represented.
Alexie's best-known novel has to be The Absolutely true Story of a Part-Time Indian, a semi-autobiographical young adult novel. Published in 2007, the novel netted the National Book Award for Alexie. The novel tells the coming-of-age story of Arnold Spirit, a young Native American boy on the Spokane reservation.
The book borrows a lot from Alexie's personal life, such as his fight againt hydrocephalus as an infant and the subsequent teasing he recieved from his peers. It talks about his transferring of schools, from the all-native reservation school to the all-white school in Reardan, a nearby town.
The novel was praised by critics all around and continues to be a popular seller to young adults. It is an important book, as representation for Native Americans in young adult literature is virtually non-existent.
In addition to all of his work as a writer, both of prose and poetry, Alexie is also an outspoken anti-censorship advocate. I suppose that he would have to be, though, because his works top the list of books that are most "challenged" by American readers.
Despite the book's popularity and sales, there are many conservative forces in this country that aim for the book to be banned in their local libraries and schools. Last year, Alexie's young adult novel was the top of the list of books readers most wanted banned, according to the American Libraries Association.
In Arizona, Alexie's books have been banned from school curriculums, along with several other authors of color. Alexie's response says more than I ever could about the ban.
"Let's get one thing out of the way: Mexican immigration is an oxymoron. Mexicans are indigenous. So, in a strange way, I'm pleased that the racist folks of Arizona have officially declared, in banning me alongside Urrea, Baca, and Castillo, that their anti-immigration laws are also anti-Indian. I'm also strangely pleased that the folks of Arizona have officially announced their fear of an educated underclass. You give those brown kids some books about brown folks and what happens? Those brown kids change the world. In the effort to vanish our books, Arizona has actually given them enormous power. Arizona has made our books sacred documents now."
Keep up the good work, Mr. Alexie. And friends, if you've read this, go pick up one his books. You'll be glad you did.