Sherman Alexie Called Out For Sexual Misconduct For Over A Twenty-Year Period
“I have done things that have harmed other people.”
The Native American Carnegie Medal award-winning writer of 26 books and writer and producer of the movie Smoke Signals, Sherman Alexie (Spokane-Coeur d’Alene,) has been accused of sexual predatory behavior and sexual harassment by several dozen women. Since last Saturday, allegations against the author have reached a fever pitch on social media.
Litsa Dremousis—a close friend of Alexie for over 15 years—says Alexie has been committing unwanted acts for years, to include kissing women that were not expecting it, making sexual innuendos, grabbing or fondling breasts and imposing himself in private situations.
In addition to Alexie making unwanted advances to women, Dremousis told Indian Country Today, “In multiple instances, he explicitly threatened to end women’s careers if they told anyone he had sexually harassed them… It seems—at least so far—that he targeted Native American women writers particularly hard.”
On Wednesday, Alexie issued a public apology amid the allegations of sexual misconduct stating, “Over the years, I have done things that have harmed other people, including those I
love most deeply. To those whom I have hurt, I genuinely apologize. I am so sorry.”
“I reject the accusations, insinuations, and outright falsehoods made by Litsa Dremousis, who has led charges against me. Ms. Dremousis has portrayed herself as simply being a friend of mine. She has withheld from the public the fact that she and I had previously been consenting sexual partners.”
Dremousis says she learned from colleagues and online posts back in October that eight Seattle women and a woman in Los Angeles were claiming Alexie had sexually harassed them.
“I first started hearing in October that he had been harassing women in Seattle, and then two weeks later I heard he had harassed a woman in Los Angeles. I thought, ‘Okay, we now have eight women in Seattle, one in Los Angeles. There are going to be more.’”
Dremousis said women were afraid to confront Alexie due to his prominence in the world of literature. She confided in friends that because she knew him, she would volunteer to confront him.
“People were afraid to confront him so I volunteered. I sent him an email and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ He did not get back to me, which I didn’t expect him to. Within one day, he took his assistant’s contact information, his literary agent’s contact information and his speaking agent’s contact information off his website. He then also blocked me from his fan page on Facebook,” said Dremousis.
“Four days later a press release went out from Seattle Arts and Lectures announcing that Alexie had canceled the upcoming season of his Sherman Alexie Loves lecture series,” she said.
Alexie states Dremousis is only telling a partial truth and claims he has no recollection of making threats. “There are women telling the truth about my behavior and I have no recollection of physically or verbally threatening anybody or their careers. That would be completely out of character. I have made poor decisions and I am working hard to become a healthier man who makes healthier decisions.”
In addition to his apology, Alexie discussed his alleged affair with Dremousis and explained interactions between the two of them that included Dremousis taking food to his home uninvited, and sending an email to his wife and posting on her Facebook page.
“Ms. Dremousis has continually tweeted and spoken in public about my behavior, making accusations based on rumors and hearsay and quoting anonymous sources,” wrote Alexie.
He finished his statement with, “Again, I apologize to the people I have hurt. I am genuinely sorry.”
Where It All Began – Public Tweets Go Viral
On Saturday February 24th, Dremousis tweeted publicly about the series of allegations she had heard since October. In her tweet she wrote: “For those who are learning about what are now several dozen allegations against Sherman Alexie—all of which are 100% credible—go to my TL [timeline] &/or search for his name on Twitter. Others are sharing their stories, too.”
Within two days of sending out her tweets to the public. Dremousis said email inbox and Twitter direct messages became overloaded with women claiming Alexie had been inappropriate in a number of ways. She now estimates there are between 60 and 70 women who have told her their stories.
Dremousis told Indian Country Today, “Many of them thought they were the only one. Right now so many women are terrified of him, they don’t want to talk at all, they are sharing their stories with me.”
“One of the Native authors in question was a woman 20 years younger. He boxed her in on all sides, he sexually harassed her and said, ‘if you tell anyone I will end your career.’ One woman said, ‘you are going to have to rape me because it is no.’ He stopped but never apologized.”
“It is so sad to read story after story after story but the one thing that keeps coming up most often is that he was manipulative. This is infuriating and it is so much worse than I thought. I knew this was awful, but I did not know he was a full-on monster.”
Reactions To Allegations
As a result of Dremousis’ tweets and a flurry of discussion on social media, Professor of American Indian Studies at University of Illinois Debbie Reese, (Nambé Pueblo) has made a public announcement that her organization, American Indians in Children’s Literature, will no longer list Alexie as an author and she has begun removing Alexie from 11 years of posts.
“Based on private conversations I have had, I can no longer let his work sit on AICL without noting that he has hurt other Native writers in overt and subtle ways, including abuse, threats, and humiliation,” wrote Reese on her website.
“I’ve been studying and writing about children’s and young adult books about Native people since the 1990’s. There’s been so little growth in all those years. Learning of his actions tells me that rather than helping grow the numbers of Native writers who get published, he’s undermined that growth.”
In addition to Reese’s claims to remove traces of Alexie from her site, there have been a slew of tweets and posts on social media of people ridding themselves of the works of Alexie.
Washington DC-based bookstore Duende District has stated they will also no longer be carrying Alexie’s books. They tweeted, “About Sherman Alexie. We learned of his predatory behavior a few months ago. We have not carried his books since. Duende District is a WoC-owned business & our mission is to uplift voices of color, esp. women of color, & we do not separate Alexie’s work from his actions.”
Sherman Alexie as a Public Speaker Advocating for Indigenous Women
Dremousis told ICT that she was also dismayed by the fact the Alexie often went on speaking engagements and after speaking about Native Women’s issues, would target the women.
“Sherman and I had more than one discussion about native women facing incredible obstacles, and all the while he was harassing and threatening native women. When he did press last year for You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, at every stop he said he wrote the book to honor his mom and honor indigenous women. It turns out he was harming indigenous women the whole time.”
“There are conversations we had where he was looking me in the eye about the incredible harms done to Native women and he was lying through his teeth. He fooled me.This is a man who spends his career on the road. If he is that reckless in Seattle—and now I know several dozen women outside of Seattle—there is no reason to think he was less reckless on the road.”
Dremousis said Alexie always asked for Indigenous attendees in the audience to stand to be recognized. “At every college he asked the native students to stand up for round of applause.”
In a National NPR interview regarding his latest book You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, Alexie said, “You know, indigenous women in Canada and United States are the single most vulnerable people in terms of domestic violence, in terms of assault, in terms of murder. And my mother was not spared from feeling that powerless against the world – not only against whiteness and colonialism, but against some of the villains inside our own tribe.”
Blaming Actions Based on Mental State
Dremousis says that though Alexie suffered from assault in his own life. It is not a reason for taking the actions he did.
“Sherman has discussed publicly about his rape when he was eight or 10 years old, a few years later he was sexually assaulted by an older teen who later raped and murdered and set fire to the bodies of two women. I thought he was acting out, he has bipolar disorder OCD and PTSD he’s very public about all of that. I told him, ‘you are in therapy, but you are not getting the help you need.’”
Dremousis says there is no excuse. “I have a woman author friend who wants to remain nameless that said, ‘I am a rape survivor, but the sum total of other people I have harassed is zero.’”
What Happens Now
As of yet, there have not been any women who have come forward to Indian Country Today publicly, but Dremousis says this is only temporary. She said there are a few women who are currently speaking with other news outlets that have already agreed to go public.
Dremousis informed Indian Country Today via phone that National Public Radio has the largest reach in the country and she sent several victims of Alexie to NPR who have agreed to come out against Alexie publicly.
Several journalists have confirmed NPR will be the first outlet to give reports first-hand from the victims of Alexie.
She also surmises that Little Brown Publishing would most likely not publish a sequel to Alexie’s award-winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. She also doesn’t think there will be a movie based on the book which is now in pre-production.
“Part-time diary sold 2.5 million copies, but how are you going to support the next book? I question how Little Brown could stand by him in a sequel. How do you market a YA author who has now been accused of sexual harassment? He is tainted from here on out. There is no way in hell colleges are going to hire him to speak.”
“The film version with Hugh Jackman and Fox Searchlight? As one of my friends in Los Angeles put it, ‘Kevin Spacey is over and he won two Oscars.’ They won’t let Sherman direct anything,” says Dremousis.
“He was being an absolute monster. This story has to come out.”