Writer and Native American activist

Sherman Alexie: Writer and Native American activist

Chase Jarvis

In his newest collection of stories, “Blasphemy,” Sherman Alexie continues his exploration of what it’s like to be a Native American now. His reading this Tuesday at Coolidge Corner Theatre is sold out, but the book signing at Brookline Booksmith at 7 is open to all.

BOOKS: How much do you read?

ALEXIE: That’s pretty much my job. We’re always late for everything as a family because I’ll go downstairs for a shower and grab a book lying on the floor and start reading. My car is strewn with them. They get french-fry grease and coffee stains on them. I buy two hardcovers of my favorite books. I keep one relatively beautiful on a shelf and abuse the other.


BOOKS: What is on the do-not-schmear shelve?

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ALEXIE: The latest is Junot Diaz’s “This Is How You Lose Her.” His books just make me happy.

BOOKS: What else have you read recently that you liked?

ALEXIE: Since it’s an election year I read “The Little Blue Book” by George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling, which is amazing. I’ve also read “Real Common Sense” by Brian Kahn, in which he applies Washington’s and Jefferson’s ideas to today.

BOOKS: Do you read a lot about politics?


ALEXIE: Yes. I also read a lot about sports, music, and pop culture. I love lists and trivia so I buy any book of those I see. One of my treasured books from childhood is “The Book of Lists” by David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace.

BOOKS: What was the library like on the reservation where you grew up?

ALEXIE: It was small with a really random assortment, like a prison library. There were a lot of Indian books, none of them written by Indians, a mix of Carlos Castaneda tripe, historical books, and picture books with Indians gazing stoically into the distance, some literary novels. In 6th grade I read “The Basketball Diaries” by Jim Carroll, which blew my socks off.

BOOKS: Did you get enough access to books growing up?

ALEXIE: Yeah. My dad was a big-time reader, and at this pawnshop in Spokane you could get 10 paperbacks in a bag for a dollar. My mom and dad would go to hawk stuff so we could eat and then give me a dollar for books.


BOOKS: Was reading much of an activity on the reservation?

ALEXIE: No. As a poor outsider community, books were viewed as white and thus suspicious.

BOOKS: Do you read about basketball, which you played in high school?

ALEXIE: Constantly. “The Breaks of the Game” by David Halberstam is probably the basketball book. Jerry West’s memoir of growing up poor in West Virginia was the most candid basketball memoir I’ve read.

BOOKS: Have you read memoirs by Native Americans?

ALEXIE: There really aren’t any and none that are not spiritually driven. They tread in reclaiming heritage rather what it’s like being an Indian in the 20th century. I don’t want to read about white people going on vision quests, and I don’t want to read about Indians going on them either.

BOOKS: Do you read Native American literature?

ALEXIE: Poetry, big time. I really like a couple of the young studs, Orlando White and S.G. Frazier. Orlando works with this language poetry, which is brand new in Native literature. He is as original as they come.

BOOKS: Have you ever had a stretch when you couldn’t read?

ALEXIE: Yeah, the most miserable day of my life. I was running around with a friend during summer break from college. We ended up at his friend’s house, ate pizza, and talked all night. Then in the morning they took off to ride motorbikes, and abandoned me in this house. There were no books, not even a cookbook. It was so weird. I was sort of panicky attacky all day.

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