"We are more than just writers. We are (Native) storytellers. We are spokespeople. We are cultural ambassadors. We are politicians. We are activists. We are all of this simply by nature of what we do, without even wanting to be."
J. Alexie, Jr. was born in October 1966. He is a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian (he prefers to be called an Indian,
finding Native American a "guilty white liberal term") born and raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation
in Wellpinit, Washington, about 50 miles from Spokane. His father held various jobs, including truck driver and
logger and his mother was a social worker. Alexie was born hydrocephalic and underwent a brain operation at the
age of 6 months, but was not expected to survive. When he did beat the odds, doctors predicted he would live with
severe mental retardation. Although spared this, he did suffer through seizures and bed-wetting throughout his
childhood. Preferring to stay inside (or occasionally hide in the rocks on the reservation), he developed a love
for reading, reading Steinbeck as a five-year-old. As a young adult, Alexie faced a new problem: alcoholism. Alcohol
plagued his life for five years before he became sober at 23.
Alexie's first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, published in 1994, received the 1994 Great Lakes College Association Award for Best First Book of Fiction and was a citation winner for the PEN/Hemmingway Award for Best First Fiction. In the same year, he also earned a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award.
Alexie's first novel, Reservation Blues, published in 1995, was selected as a Booklist Editor's Choice Award for Fiction, and was awarded an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, in 1996. His most recent novel, Indian Killer, published in 1998, was a New York Times Notable Book and was selected as one of ten "Best of Pages" titles by People magazine. For his skilled fiction writing, Alexie was named one of Granta magazine's "Twenty Best American Novelists Under the Age of Forty."
In June, 1999, The New Yorker acknowledged Alexie as one of the top writers for the 21st Entury. He was one of twenty writers featured in the magazine's Summer fiction Edition, "20 Writers for the 21st Century."
Alexie's first screenplay, Smoke Signals, based on the book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, became the first feature film produced, written and directed by American Indians. It premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy. Smoke Signals also received the 1999 Christopher Award. Alexie was nominated for the Independent Feature Project/West 1999 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay. Alexie has said the the main characters in Smoke Signals, Victor and Thomas, are very much his alter-egos.
Alexie is currently serving as a Creative Advisor to the Sundance Institute Writers Fellowship Program.
A poet and author known for his exceptional lyricism and humor, Alexie made his stand-up debut at the Foolproof Northwest Comedy Festival in April 1999, and was the featured performer at the Vancouver International Comedy Festival's opening night gala in July 1999.
Alexie has a new collection of short stories, The Toughest Indian in the World, published by Atlantic Montly Press, and a new collection of poetry and essays, One Stick Song, published by Hanging Loose Press. This month he will return to the Taos Poetry Circus to defend his World Champion Poetry Bout title. He is currently working on the screenplay adaptation of his novel Reservation Blues, which he will also direct and co-produce.
Alexie and his wife, Diane, live in Seattle with their son. In his spare time, the six-foot-two Alexie still likes to play basketball and has joked that he would willingly trade his literary career to be the 12th man on any NBA team.
"I know I have so much left to say and I don't know how much time I have left to say it all."
Sherman Alexie Bibliography:
For more information about Alexie, visit his official site at:
The Official Sherman Alexie Site
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