Written by Kiran Gokal
If you googled Native American poet and author Sherman Alexie a month ago, you would have seen the abundance of praised novels, short stories and poems that draw on his experiences as a Spokane Native American growing up on a reservation. If you looked today, you would encounter the flurry of articles dissecting numerous sexual misconduct allegations against Alexie by multiple women, including fellow Native American women authors.
Some of Alexie’s acclaimed works include his collection of short stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and his semi-autobiographical young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. His art, especially Absolutely True Diary, explores the experiences of growing up on a Spokane reservation, the neglect and lack of resources received, and the largely overlooked poverty. He writes about a young Native American teen escaping his oppression and strengthening his identity. And so it is both shocking and upsetting to see the same author perpetuating another form of oppression.
Ten women who came forward to NPR expressed their experiences on the record after Alexie issued a statement affirming rumors that circulated involving his sexual misconduct. It was Lisa Dremousis, a friend of Alexie’s for fifteen years who wrote a tweet about Alexie’s misconduct, who sparked these other women to come forwards.
There are many implications that come along with this news about Alexie. First off, as a young adult author, Alexie’s influence resides in readers as young as twelve. That is a large readership of teens that will be more or less affected by these allegations as middle schools around the nation have made it a part of the curriculum’s required reading. Furthermore, as a well known author whose novels fill a prominent space in Native American literature, Alexie’s actions end up falsely judged as a representation of the entire community. Though there is no excuse for Alexie’s disappointing actions, it is important to view the perpetrator as an individual and not as an emblem for an entire community. Alexie’s actions reflect on him as a person and as an author.
Since his statement, the former Sherman Alexie Scholarship hosted by The Institute of American Indian Arts has been renamed the MFA Alumni Scholarship and several book stores and administrators have expressed their shock and extradition. With that being said, the prevalence of the #metoo movement in the film industry has expanded and though it is disheartening, it is important to continue to address it in both the literary world and the publishing industry instead of pretending like it does not happen.