April 12, 2016

Friday, August 14, 2009

Poetry Friday: Sherman Alexie

I'm still recovering from last weekend’s national SCBWI conference.
I was in tears by 10 AM the first day, thanks to keynote speaker Sherman Alexie. The guy knows how to inspire an audience – especially an audience of children's book author/illustrators.
Growing up poor and sickly on the Spokane reservation, Alexie said books saved him from “the slow inertia of a sad and lonely life.” He looks back at himself as a “terrified kid who doesn’t feel like he has any allies, so he goes to the library.”
Now a National Book Award Winner for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Alexie often hears from rez kids like himself, but also from kids in prep schools, kids across different races. No matter how those kids are growing up, Alexie says teens across cultures tell him they feel trapped: “My choices are being made for me.”
So – he told us, “Our books will change lives in a way that an adult book cannot.” Kids are still learning how to deal with real life. Books are a place they can go to connect with the world outside themselves.
Here is Sherman Alexie’s powerful list poem, “How to Write the Great American Indian Novel”:
How to Write the Great American Indian Novel
by Sherman Alexie
All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms. Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food. The hero must be a half-breed, half white and half Indian, preferably from a horse culture. He should often weep alone. That is mandatory. If the hero is an Indian woman, she is beautiful. She must be slender and in love with a white man. But if she loves an Indian man then he must be a half-breed, preferably from a horse culture. If the Indian woman loves a white man, then he has to be so white that we can see the blue veins running through his skin like rivers. When the Indian woman steps out of her dress, the white man gasps at the endless beauty of her brown skin. She should be compared to nature: brown hills, mountains, fertile valleys, dewy grass, wind, and clear water. If she is compared to murky water, however, then she must have a secret. Indians always have secrets, which are carefully and slowly revealed.
Read the rest at the Poetry Foundation:
And one of my favorite lines from The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian (quoting Alexie’s grandmother’s take on alcohol):
“Why would I want to be in the world if I couldn’t touch the world with all of my senses intact?”
Touching the world with all of our senses – to me, that’s where poetry comes from.
Find more Poetry Friday offerings at A Wrung Sponge.


tanita✿davis said...

I was ACHING having to miss SCBWI this year because I was LONGING to hear this man in person. Thanks for sharing; I'm so glad he was as awesome as I expected.

Janet said...

Love your final insight. Great poem, too -- the second "How to" poem I've come across today.

Author Amok said...

Thanks, Tanita and Janet. There's so much satire in this poem, but Alexie's speech had a different type of humor. Sometimes angry, sometimes very sweet. He was a fabulous speaker.

Liz in Ink said...

I love this kind of humor-with-a-gut-punch...

Tabatha said...

Powerful ending on that poem. Thanks for sharing it, Laura.

I was just thinking yesterday about how books are so meaningful and powerful when you are a child/teen. There is something special about the way they speak to you.

Talk to you soon.

Linda said...

Laura,I agree, this a perfect quote to apply to poetry!

Also, thanks for all of the updates about the conference you've shared our region's listserv.

Author Amok said...

Thanks Tabatha and Linda. I hope to post more conference notes soon. Got to get these kids back to school!