Sherman Alexie (author of Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) was in Park City for a Sundance-esque screening of Smoke Signals after 15 years. He was a pleasure to hear speak and, as many people will tell you, hilarious. The Q&A focused mostly on the movie, which is understandable, but I was hoping to hear more about his writing. Unfortunately, one of my colleagues had a great question to ask, but the final question was, of course, about the “Park City Controversy.”
For those who don’t know, Diary is a YA novel frequently read in high schools, and was on this year’s summer reading list for Park City High School, which is apart of one of Utah’s wealthiest districts. You see, there’s a line about masturbation and a few other jokes that got parents up in arms. According to Alexie, these parents are better storytellers than he is, making things up like the book is a “blow job guide.” He followed this up by saying he’d be too embarrassed to give blow job directions, heck, he doesn’t even know how to do it for his wife. He went on to point out that the number one banned book series recently was Captain Underpants, so at least Native Americans are slightly less dangerous than that. I should note that when this question was asked, the audience groaned and it was apparent Alexie is sick of the discussion.
Probably my favorite moment from the night, was his follow up to how things get blown out of proportion and stories exaggerated. He joked white liberals are the wimpiest! Seriously, there are three hundred of you getting beaten by a few of these conservatives. It’s a valid point, and made me laugh probably a little too obnoxiously.
Outside of that, I appreciate the discussion he and co-producer Chris Eyre shared about writing Native stories. Just because a story doesn’t feature Natives primarily, does not mean it isn’t a native story. Sherman says no matter who or what he is writing about, it is still a Native’s story because he himself is Native (Spokane, specifically). Chris joked about another movie he worked on, where a white character mentions “Indians”, and someone suggested taking the opportunity to discuss Native Americans. Chris said, but it wasn’t that movie. Food for thought.
He was a pleasure to have on stage and I hope to see him write some novels and stories soon and to come back to Utah and talk with us.
Note: I am not directly quoting anything, only paraphrasing the way I remember it.