Sherman Alexie Analysis

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In what sense is the title, Reservation Blues, an apt title for the events of that novel?

What is the significance of the band that forms within the novel, Coyote Springs?

Given the fact that Sherman Alexie is an Indian with two tribal traditions from the Pacific Northwest (Spokane, Coeur d’Alene), why does he repeatedly invoke Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota (northern Plains) Indian? Does it have anything to do with the refrain from the poem “How to Write the Great American Indian Novel”: “the hero must be . . . from a horse culture”?

Determine the effectiveness of the gallows humor that Alexie uses in his poetry and short fiction.

Alexie frequently describes young Indian men as warriors without a war to fight. What sorts of modern-day replacements do Alexie’s young men use instead of horses and weapons? What sorts of rites of passage and experiences do they need to undergo in order to forge coherent adult identities?

What sorts of racial prejudice do Alexie’s fictional characters suffer, and how do they mediate such prejudice?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

A prolific writer, Sherman Alexie has published well over three hundred stories and poems. His poetry and poetry/short fiction works include The Business of Fancydancing (1992), I Would Steal Horses (1992), First Indian on the Moon (1993), Old Shirts and New Skins (1993), Seven Mourning Songs for the Cedar Flute I Have Yet to Learn to Play (1994), Water Flowing Home (1994), and The Summer of Black Widows (1996). He has also written the novels Reservation Blues (1995) and Indian Killer (1996).

Achievements

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Sherman Alexie began accruing his numerous accolades and awards while in college, including a Washington State Arts Commission poetry fellowship (1991) and a National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship (1992). He also won Slipstream’s fifth annual Chapbook Contest (1992), an Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award Citation, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award (1994), an American Book Award (1996), and The Ernest Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for First Fiction. His first novel, Reservation Blues (1995) won the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award, the Murray Morgan Prize, and prompted Alexie to be named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists. Indian Killer (1996), his second novel, was listed as a New York Times notable book.

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

In addition to being a significant contemporary poet, Sherman Alexie has developed an equally prominent status as a writer of fiction through the publication of short-story collections and novels. His first short-story collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993), has become one of the most-taught Indian literature texts at the college level, and the short story “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” was made into the screenplay and film Smoke Signals (1998). Alexie’s novels alone would establish a worthy reputation for any author. In Reservation Blues (1995), Alexie fictionally posits that legendary bluesman Robert Johnson did not die in 1938 but instead hitchhiked his way onto the Spokane Indian Reservation in 1991, triggering the formation of an all-Indian blues band, Coyote Springs, in the context of a compelling narrative. Indian Killer (1996), a mystery story set in Seattle, revolves around the ironically named John Smith, an Indian adopted as an infant by a white family. In Flight (2007), an orphaned Indian boy travels back and forth through time, learning and growing through what he experiences. In his acclaimed young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007), Alexie liberally uses elements of his own childhood—his encephalitic condition, his Spokane Indian Reservation upbringing, Reardan High School, and his success in academics and in basketball—to create a heartfelt and memorable work that employs graphic novel techniques to appeal visually to a younger reading audience.

Achievements

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Soon after his graduation from Washington State University, Sherman Alexie won poetry fellowships from the Washington State Arts Commission...

(The entire section is 2,159 words.)