The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian | Study Guide

Sherman Alexie

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Sherman Alexie | Biography


Sherman Alexie was born on October 7, 1966, and he lived his early life in Wellpinit, Washington, on the Spokane Indian Reservation. His parents are Salish Native Americans from the Coeur d'Alene and Spokane tribes. Young Alexie suffered seizures from congenital hydrocephalus, a condition caused by excess water in the brain. He wasn't expected to survive the surgery he underwent as a six-month-old. Unable to compete in sports because of his health, he became a voracious reader. Alexie decided to attend the affluent Reardan High School in the eighth grade, "Plenty of people saw my leaving as a betrayal," Alexie said later.

He did well in high school and was accepted to Gonzaga University, a Jesuit institution, later transferring to Washington State University. He began writing fiction and poetry at Washington State. Despite his academic success, Alexie drank heavily in college and afterward. His first poetry book, I Would Steal Horses, published in 1992, propelled him to give up drinking for good. Six years later, Alexie was named one of Granta's 20 best American novelists under 40. He continued to achieve critical acclaim, including the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, in 2007, for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, in 2010, for War Dances.

Alexie mentioned several graduation ceremonies he'd attended where high school students related to the tragedies in his book and shared the obstacles they'd overcome. Teens read, he said, because they believe "That books—especially the dark and dangerous ones—will save them." He shared that books taught him to, "Battle the real monsters in [his] life" as a young man. Junior is similarly taught and comforted by books, comics, and cartoons in Alexie's novel.

Fluent in many literary forms, Alexie writes poetry, short stories, novels, and screenplays. His work deals with the complexities of Native American life, often using dark humor to tackle pain and despair. He explores themes of poverty, alcoholism, and conflict between Native and white cultures. The characters in Alexie's works search for emotional and spiritual outlets, which Alexie calls "fancydancing."

In addition to writing, Alexie has worked on films and performed stand-up comedy. His 1998 film Smoke Signals featured an entirely Native American cast and crew. Alexie currently lives as an "urban Indian" with his wife and two sons in Seattle, Washington.
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