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Project Humanities opens with talk by Sherman Alexie

February 07, 2011

7-8:30 p.m., Feb. 7, Tempe Center for the Arts

Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian known for his independent film “Smoke Signals,” his novels, including “Reservation Blues,” his poetry and his exceptional humor and performance ability, will help Arizona State University kick off a year-long celebration of the humanities with a lecture Feb. 7 at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

Alexie will deliver a lecture titled “People, Places and Stories” at 7 p.m. The lecture is free and open to the public. No tickets are required and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Parking is free at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway. Doors open at 6 p.m. with seating beginning at 6:30 p.m.

The New Yorker named the 44-year-old Alexie “one of the top writers for the 21st century.” The Men’s Journal characterized him as the “world’s first fast-talking and wisecracking mediagenic,” and the New York Times Book Review described Alexie as “one of the major lyric voices of our time.”

Alexie’s first novel, “Reservation Blues,” won Booklist’s Editors Choice Award for Fiction. His second novel, “Indian Killer,” published in 1996, was named one of People’s Best of Pages and a New York Times Notable Book.

His book “The Toughest Indian in the World” won the 2001 PEN/Malamud Award, which honors excellence in the art of storytelling. His other books include “Flight,” a sci-fi novel and a parable of war featuring an edgy teen outcast, and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” which is Alexie’s first young adult novel. It received a 2007 National Book Award in Young People’s Literature.

Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Wash. He was born with water on the brain (hydrocephalus) and underwent an operation at the age of 6 months and, according to his official biography, was not expected to survive. He suffered severe side-effects throughout childhood, yet learned to read by age three and read “The Grapes of Wrath” by age five.

Off the rez

As a teenager, Alexie decided to attend high school off the reservation in Reardan, Wash., with a goal of getting a better education. At Reardan High, he was the only Indian, except for the school mascot. According to his biography, he excelled academically and became a star basketball player.

After attending Gonzaga University on a scholarship for two years, Alexie transferred to Washington State University, where in enrolled in pre-med courses with a goal of becoming a doctor. According to his biography, he fainted numerous times in human anatomy class and soon realized he needed a new career path.

Direction in poetry

It was a poetry workshop and the encouragement of a poetry teacher that propelled Alexie into a writing career. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from WSU, Alexie received the Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship in 1991, and the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship in 1992.

Shortly after, two of his poetry collections, “The Business of Fancydancing” and “I Would Steel Horses,” were published. In 2009, his first full collection of poems in nine years, “Face,” was released.

A prolific writer, Alexie has published collections of short stories, including “War Dances,” which was released in 2009, and “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” on which he wrote and produced the film “Smoke Signals.” The movie won the Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.

More information about the Feb. 7 lecture by Alexie is available at or 480-965-0051.

Project Humanities

Other Project Humanities events scheduled during launch week, Feb. 7-11, include panel discussions, a film screening of “Color Adjustment,” and talks by Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association of America and Jim Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

ASU’s Project Humanities, a universitywide initiative involving all four campuses, in its inaugural year will focus on “Humanities at the Crossroads: Perspective on Place.” More information on these and other Project Humanities events are online at