SHERMAN ALEXIE

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George. Photo by Jake Chessum.


"We're either portrayed as either the noble savage or the ignoble savage. In most people's minds, we only exist in the nineteenth century."

"Nobody ever asked Raymond Carver to speak for every white guy."

"I don't believe in writers' block. I think it's laziness and/or fear."

"I've heard it said that Indians shouldn't become involved in high-stakes
gambling because it tarnishes our noble heritage. Personally, I've never
believed in the nobility of poverty. Personally, I believe in the nobility
of breakfast, lunch and dinner."


Sherman Alexie, an enrolled Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, was born in 1966 on the Spokane Indian Reservation, in Wellpinit, Washington State. He obtained his B.A. at the University of Washington in 1991, and has won Poetry Fellowships in 1991 from the Washington State Arts Commission and in1992 from the National Endowment for the Arts. His widely acclaimed poetry and short stories explore contemporary Native American reservation life.


alexie.gif (21117 bytes)ONLINE WRITINGS, BY ALEXIE: 

"At Navajo Monument Valley Tribal School," a poem from The Business of Fancydancing, with photograph of area depicted.

"Defending Walt Whitman," a poem

"I Hated Tonto (Still Do)," an essay (Los Angeles Times, 28 June 1998)

"Inside Dachau," a poem

"The Joy of Reading: Superman and Me," an essay (Los Angeles Times, 19 April 1998)

"Love, hunger, money ... and other not-so-facetious reasons why the Spokane Indians want to bet on casinos" (High Country News, 19 September 1994)

Reservation Blues: The Soundtrack with Colville singer-songwriter Jim Boyd (Released by Thunderwolf Productions, 1995)

"A Reservation Table of Contents," a poem


ABOUT ALEXIE: The Official Sherman Alexie Site
includes
favorite movies, novels, poems, authors

Book Review of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven by John LaRoe, Kansas City Star

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Coeur d'Alene Tribal Information

A Dialogue About Race with President Clinton--the PBS Online News Hour, with Jim Lehrer, President Clinton, Richard Rodriguez, Cynthia Tucker, Kay James, Sherman Alexie, Elaine Chao, Roger Rosenblatt, Roberto Suro, Clarence Page

Essay--Elisa Hart, "Getting Started in Oral Traditions Research"

Honors Forum Lecture at Maricopa: Sherman Alexie--"Killing Indians: Myths, Lies, and Exaggerations in the Arts and Other Places" (October 23, 1996)

Interviews:


The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven (New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, 1993)

Reviews:

"Poetic [and] unremittingly honest...The Long Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is for the American Indian what Richard Wright's Native Son was for the black American in 1940."
--Chicago Tribune

From Booklist , September 1, 1993
Alexie confronts as much as he depicts modern Native American life in these stories set in and around the Spokane Indian Reservation. The narrative voice that relates and links these stories is powerful because of its directness. For example, in "A  Drug Called Tradition," the narrator explains that Native Americans can sometimes hear their ancestors laughing in the trees, "but we never can tell whether they're laughing at the Indians or the whites. I think they're laughing at pretty much everybody." The narrator's diagnosis is equally direct, and cultural assumptions about the influence of the past on the present and future are clear, but they are not beyond the narrator's scrutiny as he wonders "how each of us constructs our past to justify what we feel now." Both the narrator and the stories he tells offer insights that are well worth reading. --Lindsay Throm

Copyright© 1993, American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


With wrenching pain and wry humor, the talented Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian--and previously a small-press author (The Business of Fancydancing, a collection of poetry and prose-- not reviewed--etc.)--presents contemporary life on the Spokane Indian Reservation through 22 linked stories. Here, people treat each other (and life) with amused tolerance--although anger can easily erupt in this environment of endemic alcoholism and despair. The history of defeat is ever- present; every attempt to hold onto cultural tradition aches with poignancy: Thomas-Builds-the-Fire is the storyteller everyone mocks and no one listens to; Aunt Nezzy, who sews a traditional full- length beaded dress that turns out to be too heavy to wear, believes that the woman ``who can carry the weight of this dress on her back...will save us all.'' Meanwhile, young men dream of escape--going to college, being a basketball star--but failure seems preordained. These tales, though sad and at times plain- spokenly didactic, are often lyrically beautiful and almost always very funny. Chapters focus on and are narrated by several different characters, but voices and perspectives often become somewhat indistinguishable--confusing until you stop worrying about who is speaking and choose to listen to the voice of the book itself and enter into its particular sensibility. Irony, grim humor, and forgiveness help characters transcend pain, anger and loss while the same qualities make it possible to read Alexie's fiction without succumbing to hopelessness. Forgiveness seems to be the last moral/ethical value left standing: the ability both to judge and to love gives the book its searing yet affectionate honesty. (First printing of 25,000; First serial rights to Esquire and Story) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

In this darkly comic short story collection, Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, brilliantly weaves memory, fantasy, and stark realism to paint a complex, grimly ironic portrait of life in and around the Spokane Indian Reservation. These twenty-two interlinked tales are narrated by characters raised on humiliation and government-issue cheese, and yet are filled with passion and affection, myth and dream. There is Victor, who as a nine-year-old crawled between his unconscious parents hoping that the alcohol seeping through their skins might help him sleep, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who tells his stories long after people stop listening, and Jimmy Many Horses, dying of cancer, who writes letters on stationary that reads "From the Death Bed of Jimmy Many Horses III," even though he actually writes then on his kitchen table. Against a backdrop of alcohol, car accidents, laughter, and basketball, Alexie depicts the distances between Indians and whites, reservation Indians and urban Indians, men and women, and mostly poetically between modern Indians and the traditions of
the past.


"Spare, disturbing stories...with stark, lyric power."
--New York Times Book Review

FROM ALEXIE'S BOOK:

"There are things you should learn. Your past is a skeleton walking one step behind you. Your future is a skeleton walking one step in front of you. Maybe you don't wear a watch, but your skeletons do, and they always know what time it is. Now, these skeletons are made of memories, dreams, and voices. And they can trap you in between, between touching and becoming. But they're not necessarily evil, unless you let them be."

"At the halfway point of any drunken night, there is a moment when an Indian realizes he cannot turn back toward tradition and that he has no map to guide him toward the future."


smokesig.gif (12982 bytes)smoke2.jpg (17318 bytes)Smoke Signals (Chris Eyre, USA, 1998)

Winner of the Audience Award and the Filmmaker's Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, and the official selection for opening night of the 1998 New Director/New Films

With Smoke Signals Alexie and Eyre aim to dispel the stereotypes whites have about Indians. The biggest misconception? ''That Indians have no sense of humor,'' says Alexie. ''We're creating what we've always wanted,'' Eyre says, ''which is our own place in the cinema, and reinventing Indians in the movies.''  (from "Festival shows first film by, about modern Indians," y Sean P. Means, The Salt Lake Tribune, 25 January 1998)

"Set on the Coeur d' Alene reservation of Washington, "Smoke Signals" is the story about the coming of age of two young Native men, Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire. Victor, played by Adam Beach (Ojibwe) needs to scrap up enough money to go to Phoenix to pick up his dead father's ashes. Thomas, played by Evan Adams (Salish) is the resident Rez geek who just happens to have enough pennies in his jar to pay for the trip.

"The only condition Thomas has is that Victor take him along. Victor, put off by Thomas'
constant storytelling and his non-warrior persona, resists. But Victor is desperate to make
the trip. Abandoned by his alcoholic father during childhood, he secretly hopes that by
venturing south he will find healing from his family's dark past. Victor reluctantly decides
to take up Thomas' offer. Together the two men bus it to Phoenix where they ultimately
learn hard lessons about absent fathers, and what it means to be Indian in a modern world.

"This film is no "Indian Citizen Kane." But what Eyre successfully snags with "Smoke
Signals" is the heartbeat of present Native American lif--embracing both the extreme
tragic and comic visual tones of Indian family and community. Alexie manages to bring to
the screenplay all the wit, humor and sadness of his short stories. The most powerful
moments come when Thomas weaves his long, rich stories. Fans of Alexie's poetry and
prose will revel in Thomas' words." --Mark Anthony Rolo

Alexie Official Site on the movie, including multimedia

Boston Phoenix Review: "Universal Story: Signals Is a Native American Masterpiece" (July 2 - 9, 1998)

Roger Ebert's Review

Film Scout Page

Gemma Files Film Preview, "All Indians, no cowboys--Native crew goes down the road in Smoke Signals"

Internet Movie Database Website for Smoke Signals

Prairie Miller's "Smoke Signals: Director Chris Eyre Interview"SMOKE SIGNALS: DIRECTOR

Movieweb

Gerald Peary's "Smoke Signals Is a Native American masterpiece" (6 July 1998, Weekly Wire)

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Smoke Signals
Miramax

Cast
Adam Beach ------- Victor Joseph
Evan Adams ------- Thomas Builds-the-Fire
Irene Bedard ------ Suzy Song
Gary Farmer ------- Arnold Joseph
Tantoo Cardinal ---- Arlene Joseph
Cody Lightning ----- Young Victor Joseph
Simon Baker ------- Young Thomas Builds-the-Fire
Tom Skerritt -------- Police Chief

Director --------------- Chris Eyre
Producer ------------- Larry Estes, Scott M. Rosenfelt
Co-producer --------- Sherman Alexie, Chris Eyre
Camera --------------- Brian Capener
Film Editing ----------- Brian Berdan
Costume Design by -- Ron Leamon
Screenplay by ------- Sherman Alexie
Rated PG-13 for some intense images.

How Do We Forgive Our Fathers?
Dick Lourie*

How do we forgive our Fathers?
Maybe in a dream
Do we forgive our Fathers for leaving us too often or forever
when we were little?

Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speaking
or never being silent?

Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs
or their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it?

If we forgive our Fathers what is left?

* This poem is read during the last scene in Smoke Signals. It was originally published in a longer version titled "Forgiving Our Fathers" in a book of poems titled Ghost Radio published by Hanging Loose Press in 1998


Gloria Floren, Letters Department, MiraCosta College,
One Barnard Drive, Oceanside, California 92056. U.S.A. e-mail film101@miracosta.edu  
Created 23 October 1999. Contents Copyright 1999 Gloria L. Floren. Except for graphics, all rights reserved 
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