Questioning Beliefs, Sherman Alexie Challenges Colgate Students To Look At The World From The Other Side

The remarkable writer, poet and screenwriter Sherman Alexie graced Colgate’s campuson Wednesday night. Hedelivereda bitingly humorous speech in the Hall of Presidents to a receptive crowd, offering commentary on an array of American social issues.A myriad of Colgate groups sponsored the lecture, including the Native American Studies Department, Film & Media Studies, ALST, Sophomore Year Experience, Theater, Center for Leadership and Student Involvement (CLSI) and Department of Environmental Studies (ENST). Alexie is considered one of the most prolific writers in contemporary America. “[He is also] a strong voice for contemporary Native America,” Professor of English and Women’s Studies Sarah Wider said. A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, Alexie grew up in Wellpinit, Washington on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He graduated from high school and attended Gonzaga University on a scholarship, but he eventually transferred to Washington State University after two years. There, Alexie discovered his interest and talent for writing and poetry. Upon graduation, he received the Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship in 1991 and the National Endowment of the Arts Poetry Fellowship in 1992. Alexie has been writing ever since that time – poetry, short stories, essays and screenplays, including a screen adaptation of his short story – “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” from his collection of short stories entitled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.The film, 1998’s Smoke Signals, was a success both at the Sundance Film Festival and under Miramax’s distribution. Alexie has received abundant critical acclaim and has won numerous literary and film awards, including a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction for The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and a Christopher Award for Smoke Signals. Alexie has also excelled within the spoken word poetry circuit. He competed and won the World Heavyweight Poetry Bout in 1998. He won the Bout for four consecutive years.His most recent collection of short stories is entitled Ten Little Indians, marking hissixteenth book thus far in his career. On Wednesday night, Alexie delivered a lecture that moved more like a stand-up routine, drolly addressed an assortment of issues in the United States today including white liberalism, conservatism, war and race.Alexie commented on American society and spared no one. “His brand of criticism keeps people on edge, making it possible for people to see things differently because they can’t just rely on their usual way of looking at things,” Wider said. Alexie fused his various commentaries over the backdrop of his experience on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He was a part of the program as a result of Oprah’s urging and admiration for his 2003 involvement in the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance project,'”Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves.” Alexiehad beenseeking his grandfather’s 12 World War II medals, which had never been presented to his family after his grandfather’s death in Okinaw. The family was actually on a waiting list to receive them.While on Oprah,Alexie was finally given the long-awaited medals.Joking about the irony in wanting the medals so badly, he considers himself a “life-long commie bastard pacifist.” Alexie poked fun at white liberals, conservative republicans and his own Native American heritage. He described the toughness and “weirdness” of a life on the reservation and also spelled out the fact that Native Americans are not just nature-loving peaceful people, half-jokingly called many of them “obese alcoholics.” Alexie laughed at the fact that he is always the “least famous person in a room” because he is an Indian. For his publicity shots, he is always placed in front of a tree.He fearlessly attacked all stereotypes with wit and candor. Playing both sides of the war in Iraq argument, Alexie discussed the terrors of Saddam Hussein and his sons, as well as the pure tragedy of Iraqi and American deaths.He also tackled President George W. Bush, Senator John Kerry and the election. Alexie also addressed the gay marriage issue. “If you want gay people to stop having sex,” he said, “let them get married and have kids!” Alexie’s way of wrapping his opinions and criticisms in humor made him an incredibly effective speaker, allowing the audience members to laugh at themselves and the often ridiculousness of life. Commenting onSeptember 11, Alexie revealed his dismay at the “brownness” of the terrorists and wished for once that the fanatics could be “blond-haired, blue-eyed Norwegian terrorists.”He gave the audience many airport security anecdotes and expressed his gratitude for the country’s thorough airport checks, no matter how much slower the process becomes. Alexie told the audience of his “perverse thrill watching white guys get searched” at airports and even stated that he does not mind being searched because people are afraid of what they do not know or recognize. “I know and understand that he is six feet, two inches and 220 pounds of ambiguous ethnicity,”he said. The theme running through Alexie’s lecture was simple, yet one that he feels we do not always grasp. “We’re all full of shit,” he said, “we’re all fragile, finite beings trying to prove that we’re not … all we have are guesses. Everything is more complicated than we can imagine. Live your life as though you could be wrong.Try it for one day. It doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t leave a mark – try it. Live your life with one more question mark a day.”