Nationally acclaimed Spokane author Sherman Alexie walked out onto the UMC ballroom stage and told strangers about eating steak and lobster while lounging in a bathtub and watching sports.
Alexie finished his bathtub story and informed the crowd that he came out onto the stage all wrong. He walked back behind the curtain to redo his entrance. This time, he painstakingly walked out, donning a serious expression. He turned toward the crowd and lowered his voice and spoke slowly.
“I was supposed to come out as the public figure Indian, but instead I came out as just me the first time,” Alexie said in his deep voice.
He described common American Indian stereotypes and returned to his original voice. As the author of several poems and books, including his latest novel called “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian,” it was foreseen that Native Americans would be a central topic of conversation.
Alexie reached into a 10-gallon metal tub filled with water bottles and tossed them out to the crowd with an air of humor.
“I like corrupting all you liberal Boulder people with plastic water bottles,” Alexie said.
After talking about how hot he thinks his wife is, drunken fights, the American Indian health care system and what is was like to grow up on a reservation, Alexie moved on to his literature. He read a poem about American Indian names and gave himself several names, including; Only Land Rich, Afraid of Barbers, and Little Peanuts. He never did reveal his actual American Indian name, saying that the names are sacred. He followed that statement with, “I can make up anything about Indians and you’ll believe me.”
The U.S. government used to only cover American Indian dental work for one day out of every year. Alexie had 10 more teeth than he was supposed to as a child. He had to get them all pulled out at once. The dentist only gave him half the normal amount of Novocain, saying that Indians didn’t feel pain as much as everyone else. Alexie said he hopes to run into the dentist one day. He said if he does he will kick him between the legs and know the dentist feels it twice as much as Alexie would feel it himself. Health care fared similar to dental care on the reservation.
“They gave you dental floss and condoms for everything,” Alexie said. “I still can’t find the connection.”
The CU Cultural Events Board planned the event as part of their mission to bring cross-cultural education to campus. The event had a high American Indian attendance from outside of the university. Several students also came to hear Alexie crack jokes and address social issues.
Quinn Gray, a 19-year-old sophomore political science and environmental biology major, attended the talk out of personal interest.
“I was introduced to Sherman Alexie’s work last year in my diversity seminar and immediately became a huge fan,” Gray said. “I had to come hear what he had to say about his comedic and serious experience as a Native American.”
Hayden Hedman, a 20-year-old junior environmental biology major attended the talk with the American Indian and Engineering Society.
“I’m really interested in his portrayal and modern perspective to a very optimistic and positive view of what’s going on,” Hedman said. “Also, the entertainment value.”
Alexie ended the talk by reading his poem, “Sonnet of Fabric Softener,” a sonnet whose content is dedicated to his wife and warm sheets straight out of the dryer. The event was followed by a book signing.
For more information on Alexie or his works, visit his website.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Mahala Proch at Mahala.firstname.lastname@example.org