Sherman Alexie is a very entertaining man. He treated us to a half hour of stand-up comedy before diving into a reading from his new book of stories, Blasphemy. Here are some gems from his riffs on doing book tours:
- “I’m an Indian, we’re tapped into magical shit you don’t even understand.”
- “My Indian name should be Dances With Hatred.”
- “I was so rezzy, I was a redskin redneck.”
- “Unfamiliar trees are terrifying.”
He told an elaborate story about being quizzed about Emily Dickinson by an elderly woman on Cleveland public access TV, then told us it was a lecture on storytelling. He had actually been on Cleveland public access TV, but it wasn’t at all the way he just told it, and that is the way that his life inspires stories, he takes one piece from life and does something completely different with it.
He read a story called “Breaking and Entering” about a man who kills a young black man breaking into his home. He said it was written in 2006, and so it had nothing to do with the Trayvon Martin case.
During the Q&A, he talked about how he hates doing craft interviews because what each writer does is specific to them. He described his process in a very mundane way: “I sit at my computer and start typing and shit comes out, and I keep going til the shit’s not coming out anymore, then I get something unhealthy to eat, then l go back and look at the shit and try to figure out what’s good and what’s bad.” He said that he feels most natural writing poems and would give up fiction if it weren’t paying his bills. He said that he always wrote as a child, mostly mimetic stuff that was similar to what he was reading, (he had a funny story about how his grandmother used to buy him bodice rippers about Indian warriors and settler schoolteachers because they had an Indian on the cover) but didn’t feel connected to his writing until he took a college poetry class and the professor gave him an anthology of Indian poetry.
As a bonus, Ann Patchett was there to introduce Alexie and to promote her independent bookstore, Parnassus Books, which sells books at all of the library readings. She said that Alexie “makes the rest of us look like dreadful sloths.” I think I agree.