Sherman Alexie: ‘There’s always a story to be told’

Sherman Alexie, the award winning writer, poet and filmmaker who is most famous for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and the film Smoke Signals, stopped by the Fusion newsroom for a sit down interview with Alicia Menendez.

From talking about Alexie’s hilarious interview with Stephen Colbert to his take on the Washington Redskins name controversy, we got a better sense of who this prolific author is. But there were still a few things that this Native American journalist wanted to know.

I’m not sure what I thought Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene tribal member, would be like in person, but I definitely didn’t think he would be 6-foot-two-inches tall. Despite the fact that he towered over most of the Fusionistas in the newsroom, he wasn’t intimidating in the least and was surprisingly very candid about what it’s like being the most famous contemporary Native American author.

While the possibility of being the “token” Native American writer–only successful because of his identity–might make some flinch, Alexie said that is no longer a concern of his. Sure, when he first started out it was in the back of his mind, but now he says, “who cares how you got there? Measure yourself by what you accomplish and how long you stay.”

His cultural background makes him stand out among other great authors and, like his father-in-law once told him, “No matter where you go, everyone will find you fascinating.”

During his career, some of his titles were called inappropriate for younger readers and were even banned by libraries and in some classrooms. Balancing authenticity of expression and respecting cultural traditions can be a challenge. If Alexie is adamant about something, it’s this: “I try to be respectful and to be a decent person,” he said. “But I’m gonna write what I’m gonna write.”

So, he continues to write novel after novel because he believes “there’s always a story to be told. There’s always something happening. I’m going to be happy until I change the world and I’m never going to, so I’ll have to keep trying.”

Alexie believes the way to make things better is through cultural sovereignty. “Hollywood has determined what an Indian is,” he said. “In order to fight that image, we have to create our own.”