Born in 1966 on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, WA, Sherman Alexie is a novelist, short story writer, poet, and winner of the 2007 National Book Award in Young People's Literature for "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian." His other works include "The Business of Fancydancing," "I Would Steal Horses," and "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven," a story from which was adapted into the motion picture "Smoke Signals." His novel "War Dances," the story of an author who must care for his dying alcoholic father, was released in October 2009 by Grove/Atlantic Press.
Question: Whom would you most like to meet?
Sherman Alexie: It’s funny, this popped into my head, so I’ll go with it, Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was banned from baseball in 1919 for allegedly fixing the World Series. Country boy, ended up being a great baseball player, one of the greatest of all time, I’d like to talk to him about that World Series, about the mysteries of human nature. Because, you know, you’re looking at the stats, I’m pretty sure he didn’t participate in the fix, but he knew about it, so I’d like to have a discussion of morality with Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Question: Who are your literary heroes?
Sherman Alexie: Well, there are just certain poems and novels and stories that resonate forever and ever. You know, poems I always return to, Emily Dickinson: “Because I could not stop for Death, that kindly stopped for me.” You know, Theodore Roethke: “I know a woman,” you know, “I knew a woman, lovely in her bones, when small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them.” James Wright: “Suddenly I realized that if I stepped outside my body, I would break into blossom.” And then, you know, the end of “Grapes of Wrath,” when Rose of Sharon breastfeeds, you know, her child has died, but she breastfeeds the starving man, that moment? So it’s always individual works. Even in life, I don’t have heroes. I believe in heroic ideas, because the creators of all those ideas are very human. And if you make heroes out of people, you will invariably be disappointed.
Question: Was there a particular work that moved you as a child?
Sherman Alexie: Oh, Ezra Jack Keats, “A Snowy Day,” the book. You know, the idea of multicultural literature is very new and so as a little Indian boy growing up on the reservation, there was nobody like me in the books, so you always had to extrapolate. But when I picked up A Snowy Day with that inner-city black kid, that child, walking through the, you know, snow covered, pretty quiet and lonely city, oh, I mean, when he was making snow angels and, you know, when he was getting in snowball fights and when he got home to his mother and it was cold and she put him in a hot bathtub and put him to sleep, the loneliness and the love in that book, oh, just gorgeous. So that picture resonates with me still.
Recorded Oct 27, 2009