Sherman Alexie Additional Biography


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Born with hydrocephalus (water on the brain), Sherman Joseph Alexie, Jr., grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. His father was a member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe, his mother a Spokane. An operation when he was six months old placed him at risk of mental retardation, but Alexie survived to become a voracious reader early on. Feeling ostracized on the reservation, partly because of his intellectual pursuits, he transferred to the all-white high school in Reardan, twenty-two miles away, where he was a popular student and starred on the basketball team. After two years at Gonzaga University, Alexie transferred to Washington State University, where his initial interest in pursuing a medical career ended when he fainted in a human anatomy class. His poetry workshop teacher, Alex Kuo, encouraged his writing, and with the assistance of a Washington State Arts Commission fellowship in 1991, he finished his first books of poetry. In his review of The Business of Fancydancing for The New York Times Book Review, James Kincaid hailed Alexie as “one of the major lyric voices of our time.” Following this initial acclaim, Alexie gave up drinking, and he has spoken out against alcohol abuse, particularly on the reservation, both in his public appearances and in his subsequent writings.

Alexie married Diane Tomhave, of Hidatsa, Ho-Chunk, and Potawatomi heritage, in 1995. They would have two sons, Joseph (born 1997) and David (born 2001). Alexie’s move to Seattle is reflected in the shift of settings in his first two novels, from the Spokane reservation in Reservation Blues to Seattle in Indian Killer, which was published one year later. His involvement in film, which started with Smoke Signals in 1998, is consistent with his flair for public performance and stage presence. Alexie takes pride in having won the World Heavyweight Poetry Bout (slam poetry) in 1998 and each of the next three years as well, and his credits include stand-up comedy and various television appearances, including the Public Broadcasting Service’s program A Dialogue on Race with President Clinton in 1998. With Colville Indian musician Jim Boyd, Alexie has also collaborated on several musical recordings.

Owing to an administrative oversight, Alexie’s bachelor’s degree was not awarded by Washington State University until 1994; his alma mater recognized him in 2003 with a Regents’ Distinguished Alumnus Award. He also holds honorary degrees from Seattle University and Columbia College (Chicago).


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sherman Joseph Alexie, Jr., is a prolific writer, most of his work reflecting the nature of life on the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, and the life of down-and-out American Indians in cities such as Seattle and Spokane. His poetry and short fiction are both marked by a robust humor, which ranges from slapstick to a dry self-deprecation; it is this characteristic tone that generally engages readers and stays with them after the book is finished.

Alexie was born on October 7, 1966, near Spokane, Washington, the son of Sherman Joseph and Lilian Agnes (Cox) Alexie. After graduating from high school in 1985, he attended Gonzaga University for two years, dropping out briefly. Once back...

(The entire section is 929 words.)


Sherman Alexie was born October 7, 1966, on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. Like the protagonist of Part-Time Indian, he was born with hydrocephalous (i.e., water on the brain) and was not expected to survive long. Even after he had an operation to correct the condition, doctors thought that Alexie would suffer mental deficiencies. Defying those predictions, however, Alexie learned to read by age three and developed a voracious intellectual curiosity that often made him the butt of jokes from his peers. Also like his protagonist Junior, Alexie chose to leave the Spokane Reservation to attend the more advanced and better supplied Reardan High School twenty miles away. He later attended both Gonzaga University and Washington State University. His own medical experiences might have influenced his desire to take premed classes, but his inability to actually stay awake when studying human anatomy quickly changed his mind. Alexie eventually turned to literature and found his true calling as a writer.

Alexie had published two volumes of poetry before his first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, brought him international fame in 1993. The movie Smoke Signals (1998) was based on one of the short stories contained in this collection. Alexie’s first full-length novel, Reservations Blues, was published in 1995; and his second novel, Indian Killer, followed one year later.

Multitalented, Alexie has appeared on stage as both a singer and a stand-up comic. He also teaches writing and ethnic studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he lives with his wife and two children.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Acknowledged by The New Yorker in June 1999, as one of the top writers of the upcoming twenty-first century, Sherman Alexie is a...

(The entire section is 750 words.)


(Novels for Students)

Poet, novelist, and screenwriter, Sherman Alexie has helped to reshape conventional images of Native Americans through his lyrical, yet blunt...

(The entire section is 414 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

Alexie was born on October 7, 1966, in Spokane, Washington. A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, Alexie grew up in Wellpinit, Washington, on the...

(The entire section is 495 words.)