Sherman Alexie was born in Spokane, Washington, on October 7, 1966, the son of Sherman Joseph Alexie and Lillian Agnes (née Cox) Alexie. Alexie was hydrocephalic, necessitating brain surgery at the age of six months. The surgery was successful, but he had seizures throughout his youth which were likely related to the birth condition. The seizures, a long history of bed-wetting, and a voracious appetite for reading all conspired to separate him from his childhood peers.
Alexie frequently acknowledges both his Spokane and Coeur d’Alene tribal heritage, even as he notes that he is a “breed,” not a “blood,” being 13/16 (as the poem of the same name from The Business of Fancydancing describes) Indian. Alexie’s alcoholic father was absent most of Alexie’s youth, while his mother worked in the Wellpinit Trading Post and sold her handmade quilts. It may or may not be true that he had read all of the books in the Wellpinit school library by the end of the eighth grade. He attended Rearden High School, where he excelled academically and on the basketball court, earning a scholarship to Gonzaga University. After two years at Gonzaga, a drinking problem and a girlfriend at Washington State University caused him to transfer there, and he received his B.A. in English in 1991, benefiting there from the mentorship of one of his teachers, Alex Kuo.
Within a year of graduating from college, Alexie received the Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship and the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship. Alexie has said that receiving the two...
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