Thursday, May 2, 2013

Author's visit offers new understanding of novels

By Vicky Murray, Guest Columnist
 The Common Reading Program is fast approaching  its seventh year. Most Pacific Lutheran University students have had the opportunity to be a part of the program during their first-year orientation at PLU.
    
The Common Reading Program is used to introduce students to the structure of group discussion and diversity literature. In past years, the book “Flight,” by Sherman Alexie, has been used. 
     

Alexie is a critically-acclaimed Native American author from the Spokane reservation. He has published 22 books, one of which is the second most-banned book in the country.
  
On Tuesday, I attended an event he held in cooperation with Tacoma Public Libraries at the Urban Grace Church in downtown Tacoma. He was there to promote his new book “Blasphemy.”
  
The church was packed with approximately 400 people. It seemed like people from all walks of life showed up to see him speak, from upper class elderly people to lower class children from a local reservation.

The whole evening he entertained the audience with stand-up comedy and a variety of readings from “Blasphemy.”
  
Much of his performance consisted of jokes about attending his first gay marriage, athletes and Catholic priests. He was a brilliant speaker with a high amount of audience interaction.
   
I personally went to the event because I’m very critical of his work and how it is used to educate people on Native Americans. I myself identify as Native American. I was even raised on a reservation like Alexie. My core criticism of Alexie is how he chooses to depict his own culture.
   
Typically within Alexie’s body of work, he discusses the plight of Native Americans.
    
Most of his well-known stories focus on deadbeat alcoholic dads abandoning their children. Such is the case with the book “Flight.” 
   
It seems as though he puts any positive aspects of the culture in as afterthoughts.
     
Seeing Alexie in person made me gain more respect for him. He was incredibly entertaining and down to earth. I also learned that he is a strong activist for equal marriage rights. It was also evident that he cares deeply for his fans, because he stayed until all the last fans had all their books signed.
    
That being said, not everyone who reads his literature gets the opportunity to meet him and discuss it.
  
I have experienced people using his literature as a voice for all Natives. I caution you to read critically whenever learning about a new culture.