9 October 2013, Bing Crosby Theater
The first thing Sherman Alexie said when he took the podium was, “It’s always good to be home. You can’t beat getting to relive unresolved childhood issues.” I knew after that lead in that I could expect witty cynicism and dry humor from this celebrated author, and I was not disappointed. He spent a large portion of his monologue making fun of everything from Republicans to male yoga teachers. But he balanced it out by mocking his own faults – his temper and narcissistic tendencies, and also his chest hair – to the riotous laughter of the audience. There was one particular anecdote in which he described his attempt to reach for a packet of peanut brittle that was only a few feet away without leaving his hotel bed. It was a simple story, but it was humorous and relatable, which allowed me to see him as a human being, and not just a literary mastermind.
As a reservation Indian, Alexie has a unique perspective that is rarely voiced, so it was interesting to hear his take on issues concerning religion, politics, and race. I also noticed a theme of identity throughout the stories he recounted. For example, he expressed his derision toward parents who name their children after themselves, which led into his declaration that adults should be able to choose a new name for themselves – a name that they have earned, not that they were assigned. I also liked Alexie’s use of the phrase, “algebra of identity” when it comes to describing ancestry. Alexie himself is 13/16ths Indian.
Alexie spent most of his stage time regaling the audience with jokes and comedic anecdotes, but he did read a few poems and one short story. My favorite was a grouping of poems called, “Possible Epitaphs for my Tombstone.” The one that stood out to me the most simply states, “An Indian’s life is a series of losses, but at least I died of natural causes.” This somber sentence reveals a heap of emotions – grief, guilt, anger, acceptance – and epitomizes a significant facet of Alexie’s identity.
Hannah Brenneman is a senior English major at Whitworth University. She originally hails from Colorado Springs, CO and spends much of her free time filling out crossword puzzles, playing the oboe, and watching BBC dramas.