Sherman Alexie is an award-winning author and poet whose first young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, garnered numerous accolades, including the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. The protagonist of the book is American Indian Arnold Spirit, Jr., called "Junior" throughout the book, a teenager who lives on the Spokane Reservation in Washington. Upon encouragement from a teacher at the school on the reservation, Junior enrolls in an all-white high school off the reservation. The book relates Junior's experiences dealing with issues on and off the reservation, including poverty, racism, and the importance of tradition.
Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, was born in 1966 and grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation fifty miles from Spokane, Washington. Alexie's experiences growing up on the reservation inspired the story behind The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Like his character Junior, Alexie was born with a condition called hydropcephalus, which means that he had an excess of cerebral spinal fluid within his skull. The condition required surgery at the age of six months, and Alexie was initially not expected to survive or recover. Despite these expectations, Alexie learned to read at age three and was reading John Steinbeck by age five, activities which caused him to be ostracized by other children on the reservation. When he reached high school age, Alexie realized he would gain a better education at a school off the reservation and made the decision to enroll in Reardan High, where he was the only Indian (aside from the school mascot).
Alexie holds a BA in American Studies from Washington State University. It was at WSU that Alexie discovered his love and talent for writing, encouraged by his poetry teacher Alex Kuo. His first book of poetry, The Business of Fancydancing, was published in 1991, and other poetry collections soon followed. In 1993, Alexie's book of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, was published by Atlantic Monthly Press. The book went on to receive the PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction.
A storyteller of all mediums, Alexie also pursues stand-up comedy and filmmaking. Alexie is credited with helping create the first all-Indian movie, Smoke Signals, which was entirely produced, directed, and acted by American Indians. Based on one of his own short stories, the film won the Audience Award and the Filmmaker's Trophy at the Sundance Film Festival in 1998. Believing that Indian films and filmmakers have been wrongly ignored, Alexie hoped Smoke Signals would help open doors: "These 13-year-old Indian kids who've been going crazy with their camcorders will finally see the possibilities" (Gale).
Through his writing, Alexie communicates the challenges that modern American Indians often face, including poverty, alcoholism, and a sense of despair. Despite these themes, critics have noted that Alexie's stories still leave his readers with a sense of hope and respect for his characters. Alexie is currently working on a new YA book called The Magic and Tragic Year of My Broken Thumb, the sequel to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. His newest book of poetry, Face, was published earlier this year, and his newest book of short stories, War Dances, is due out in the fall.
For more information about Sherman Alexie, including a more detailed list of his writings, visit his home page at http://www.fallsapart.com. Be sure to also check out Alexie reading an excerpt from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, located at http://www.fallsapart.com/truediary.htm#audio.