Hall Center For The Humanities


Sherman Alexie

"Demystifying Tonto"
Special Events

Thu., Oct. 30, 2003, 1:00pm
Location: Haskell Auditorium, Haskell Indian Nations University
Sherman Alexie, Jr. is an author, poet and screenwriter whose works focus on the experiences of modern Native Americans, on and off the reservation. Through his work, Alexie seeks to give a realistic portrayal of people who are normally represented as stereotypes, if at all. Because of this, he tends to avoid stock Indian characters such as mystical shamans, brave warriors and victims of poverty. Instead, Alexie?s Indians are three-dimensional humans who inhabit a realistic world and interact with 21st century culture.

Alexie will explore the realities and stereotypes of Native American life in his lecture and will discuss those ideas further in two colloquia at The University of Kansas and at Haskell Indian Nations University.

Alexie draws his inspiration from his own life. Born in 1966, Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur d?Alene Indian from Wellpinit, Washington?a town on the Spokane Indian reservation. He spent high school in Rearden, WA, a place where he says he ?was the only Indian . . . except for the school mascot,? and eventually ended up in a poetry class at Washington State University. It was here that Alexie discovered his love for writing. He published his first collection of poetry, The Business of Fancydancing, the year after he graduated.

Since then, Alexie has written several other poetry books, short story collections and one novel, Reservation Blues. However, he is probably best known for Smoke Signals, the 1998 movie that he wrote and produced.

Smoke Signals was adapted from Alexie?s short story collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and told the story of two young Native American men on a cross-country road trip to retrieve the ashes of one of their fathers. The film won the Audience Award and the Filmmaker?s Trophy at the Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered. Besides telling a good story, Smoke Signals is internationally recognized as the first feature film produced, written and directed by American Indians.

Alexie strives to break stereotypes through his public speaking as well. Articulate, fast-talking and funny, he mocks those who expect him to appear on stage telling ancient legends in stilted speech while staring ?off into the distance as if constantly receiving visions.? Alexie?s speaking style has served him well. He won the World Heavyweight Championship Poetry Bout at the Taos Poetry Circus for four years in a row, beginning in 1998. The Bout pits contestants in a one-on-one reading of written and extemporaneous poetry. The poet who can capture the attention of both the judges and raucous audience takes home the prize.

Granta magazine, The New Yorker and The New York Times have all taken notice of Alexie. He has earned a PEN/Malamud award, a Lila Wallace-Reader?s Digest award and was a citation winner for the PEN/Hemingway award. He is currently working on a screenplay adaptation of his novel Reservation Blues, which he will also direct and co-produce.

This event is free and open to the public.

October 30, 2003
1:00 p.m.
Haskell Auditorium, Haskell Indian Nations University

Other related events:
Humanities Lecture Series - "Killing Indians: Myths, Lies & Exaggerations"
Colloquium - "Conversation with Sherman Alexie, Jr."
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