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Beyond Sherman Alexie: There are Many More Native Writers Who Are Good, Too

Sherman Alexie has defined the Native literary canon for years, but it’s time for fans to share their enthusiasm for other Indian writers as well.

I would like to take this opportunity to promote the release of a new anthology of indigenous writing called Beyond Sherman Alexie: Read Our Stuff too, You Might Not Like it as Much, but it’s Still Pretty Good.

But first, if we could just stick a pin in it for a sec, before I launch into my spiel, I need to get some housekeeping out of the way. Now, I realize how difficult it might be to expand your definition of Native American literature beyond the works of such a loveable national treasure as Sherman Alexie, but if you could stop jumping up and down and squealing for just a sec, or maybe set down the bronze plated Franklin Mint commemorative first edition copies of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, you know, um, before you put somebody’s eye out, I’d like to make some alternative suggestions. And yeah, I get the irony of the term “alterNative,” thanks so much for pointing that out, you’re hilarious. Settle down, now.

Okay, brace yourself, here goes. Even though you’ve never conceived of there being any other indigenous authors besides Sherman Alexie, does not mean that no other indigenous authors exist. Okay, whoa, I didn’t mean to blow your mind there. Um, sorry? I wasn’t aware this information would tear the fabric of the space time continuum, I’m just trying to make some reasonable suggestions, okay? Are you going to be alright? Is there anyone I can call? Just breathe. Sure, go ahead and take five while I hold your Thomas Builds-the-Fire statuette. Yeah, sure, Thomas Builds-the-Fire is my manic pixie dream girl too, uh huh, I feel you. Wow, I didn’t know that you legally changed your name to Thomas, and named all of your children Sherman Alexie. The girls too? No shit? Wow…um, sure, “Sherman” is a lovely name for a girl.


Now, I understand that it’s hard to wrap your head around new concepts, I know, new ideas are scary! However, let me reassure you that a lot of people struggle with the information that other Indigenous authors besides Indian du jour Sherman Alexie, live and breathe. And many, many devoted book and literature fans all around the world are completely unaware of this inconvenient fact also, and I appreciate that this can be distressing. Why even Sherman Alexie is unaware that no other indigenous authors except himself exist. I know, right? That sounds incredible but it’s true! I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, it isn’t my intention to shatter your illusions and upend your faith in humanity. Look, I was pretty upset when I found out there was no Santa Claus, or a Tooth Fairy for that matter, but did I let that define me? Did I let my disillusionment keep me from enjoying life and the occasional Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino? The answer to that is no. No, of course I didn’t, and neither should you.

Now that we have that out of the way, I want to plug this anthology of indigenous writing I previously mentioned. The title says it all—Beyond Sherman Alexie: Read Our Stuff too, You Might Not Like it as Much, but it’s Still Pretty Good. I know, I know, if I wanted to inform you about ALL of those other indigenous writers, I should have left you know who out of the conversation altogether, right? However, I’m not even sure that’s possible. Sherman Alexie is essential to indigenous literature as mass is to gravity. As water is to life.

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What’s that? Do I want to read your erotic fan fiction Fifty Shades of Alexie? Um, no, that’s okay. I hope that I am getting my point across to you. Sigh.

Here’s another way to look at it: if the universe can trip all over itself in worshipful admiration of the Twilight vampire book series, and those hundreds of thousands of fans end up adoringly devoted to all of the many, MANY vampire book spin-offs and franchises, then it stands to reason one could expect similar results from Sherman Alexie fans. Zombie stories? Same deal. How many zombie books and zombie television shows do we really need? Apparently, there’s literally no limit. But I wonder if those Sherman Alexie fans see any potential good in migrating just a skoosh of their messianic allegiance from “the most prominent American Indian in American culture today” to other, perhaps lesser known indigenous writers who are … pretty good too, you’re darn tootin’! Or maybe, just maybe, if indigenous writers simply switched genres and started writing books about zombies and vampires, and published versions of The Great American (Indian) Horror Story? How would that be? Of course, there are many indigenous writers who are already doing that…(cough, cough, Stephen Graham Jones, cough). It’s worth some thought.

There are two things always present in classic western literature: death and tragedy. And by that logic there should be hundreds—no, thousands—of great (Native) American novels, and great American (Indian) horror stories. No? And of course there are, except they all happen to have been written by non-indigenous people, and most of them have an unreasonable amount of cowboys and outlaws in them, or brawny halfbreed braves getting busy with petticoat and bodice wearing damsels in distress.

I would be more than happy to include the ever-growing list of indigenous authors and writers, you know, so Sherman Alexie can divert some of the questions and perhaps outsource some of those conference and panel invitations. He must be exhausted from holding up the canon all these years.

In 2016, scholar, writer, and indigenous literature advocate, Daniel Heath Justice, started the twitter project #HonouringIndigenousWriters. What resulted from the hashtag is a poster free for download, which lists a gobsmackingly amount of indigenous writers and authors. You can check it out, or even better, check out the authors’ books! It will be alright, I promise. No one will arrest you for literary treason.

Are you still with me? Evolving means moving outside of our comfort zones, am I right? The first steps are the hardest. Say it with me now, there are other indigenous authors besides Sherman Alexie, and a couple of them are…not bad, in fact, they might even be…pretty good. See? Was that so bad? Just practice saying that in front of a mirror a hundred times a day and you will soon be on your way towards a better, more comprehensive literary diversity. Go ahead, expand your horizons. Be brave.

Tiffany Midge is a poetry editor for The Rumpus, and an award-winning author of The Woman Who Married a Bear. Her work is featured in McSweeney's, Okey-Pankey, The Butter, Waxwing, and Moss. She is Hunkpapa Lakota. Follow her on Twitter @TiffanyMidge.