Author Event: Sherman Alexie

Last week, I was lucky enough to see award-winning Sherman Alexie, author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, speak at Johnson County Community College. I’m so glad the college made this event open to the public (and free!). Alexie’s talk was titled “The Absolutely True Story of the Author of the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and focused on Alexie’s own childhood growing up on an Indian reservation.

Of course, growing up on an Indian reservation wasn’t all fun and games. Alexie’s family and most of the other families on the reservation lived in abject poverty. His family didn’t have running water or electricity until he was seven years old. Alexie had 42 permanent teeth. Because the Indian Health Service only did dental work once a year, he had to have the 10 extra teeth pulled all at one time. The white dentist thought that Indians only felt half as much pain as white men and prescribed pain killers accordingly. But Alexie has the skills of a stand-up comedian and even though he was talking about some really sad things, his talk was incredibly funny.

Some highlights:

*The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was the second most challenged/banned book last year. The number one most challenged/banned book was the children’s picture book about gay penguins.

*It’s been published in 78 countries and he just signed a deal to have it published in Iran.

*The impetus for Alexie asking if he could go to school off of the reservation came when he was in seventh grade and saw that his math book had his mother’s name it.

*He described Indians as being “indigenous to the land but immigrants to the culture” of America.

At the end of his presentation, he was asked questions that JCCC students had submitted ahead of time. One question was about which events in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian really were true. He answered the question by speaking about how human memory is never accurate because we are the unreliable narrators of our own autobiographies. To illustrate his point, he had the audience close our eyes and then shout out what color his pants were. The majority of shout-outs were wrong.

He was also asked why he finally agreed to let his books be released as e-books. He didn’t really answer why but he talked about how seeing what strangers are reading gives a glimpse into their humanity and he’s sad that e-readers take that experience away.

If you ever have the chance to see Sherman Alexie speak, I highly recommend that you do. In the meantime, you can follow him on Twitter at @Sherman_Alexie and get little snippets of his wit and wisdom.

  • rhapsodyinbooks

    Sounds like a great talk. I love the question about his pants. Sometimes I try to remember what my husband has on for the day and can’t do it! I loved The Absolute Diary but when I tried a few of his other books they were too dark for me.