The Native American Renaissance opened doors for many Native American authors to flourish. Authors like these are now able to publish stories about their own experiences and continue to bring awareness to the issues that plague the modern Native American. In this post-renaissance period, we find Sherman Alexie.
Sherman Alexie was born in 1966 and grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. There, he lived around Spokane culture, but was never really accepted by his community. In infancy, he developed a condition that lead to surgery. This caused him to be in and out of the hospital for much of his adolescence and left his head larger than usual. He was constantly teased and not able to participate in many of the activities that are considered a rite of passage for young Native American male’s due to the side effects of that condition. This did not stop him from being academically successful.
He excelled during his high school career, leading him to receive a scholarship at Gonzaga University. After switching his major multiple times, the only place he seemed to find solace was in his literature classes. After a couple of years, he left Gonzaga and transferred to Washington State University. There, he found Alex Kuo, a respected poet that served as a mentor for Alexie. In these classes, he was able to begin writing and publishing his own works.
The themes of these works encapsulate the life of a contemporary Native American person living on a reservation. Despair, poverty, and alcoholism are riddled in this community and directly affects the characters in his stories. Through irony and dark humor, Alexie paints the picture of life as a modern Native American and the challenges they face on a reservation.
While being successful in his literary career, he has also dabbled in film. He created the first all-Native American movie, Smoke Signals, which got top honors at the Sundance Film Festival. Much like his books and poems, this is a story that reflects on the many struggles that Alexie encounted during his time on the reservation.
Alexie now lives in Seattle, Washington and is still active in the literary community. He most recently published a memoir titled You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me which sheds light on his trials and tribulations at the Spokane Indian Reservation.