Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sherman Alexie on THE SNOWY DAY

Earlier this year, in "I come to school for this class," I wrote about a terrific project in Arizona through which students at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona read literature by American Indian writers. The project was developed by James Blasingame and Simon Ortiz at Arizona State University.

I was pleased to see more about the project in "The Answer Sheet" --- a blog in the Education section of the Washington Post. Blasingame was their guest blogger. His wide ranging "An unusual introduction to Native American YA lit" touches on the writing of Joseph Bruchac and Sherman Alexie.

In his post, Jim points to one of his articles published in the Winter 2008 volume of The ALAN Review. Titled "From Wellpinit to Reardan: Sherman Alexie's Journey to the National Book Award, the article includes a lot of extensive quotes from Alexie. Here's one:

I have a vivid memory of when I was six years old and pulled The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats, off the shelf in the elementary school library. On the cover was a dark boy in a red coat out in the snow. I instantly figured he was Indian, he wasn't, but I thought he was. I connected to that main character almost instantly in a lot of ways.
Alexie won the National Book Award for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. There's a lot in the book that I really like because I connect with the character, the setting, the experiences...  It is real and brutally honest. In one sense, I find it a bit too real, and I wonder if it didn't need to be quite that way...  I'm thinking of his character's use of "faggot." I hear kids back home at Nambe toss that word around and I look at the young boys and wonder how that feels to those who may be gay?

Anyway, I am glad to learn that Alexie identified with the little boy in The Snowy Day and that he shared that memory with Jim. At the start of each semester, I ask students to bring in a book they remember. Tomorrow, I'll let them know about Alexie and his memory of The Snowy Day.


Anonymous said...

I remember reading that book too. Funny I never really thought about the race of the boy. I remember seeing that he was brown, but apart from that I didn't think about it much. Funny how certain children's books stay in your mind years after you've read them. Blessings. Ravynwolfe.

Anonymous said...

While Alexie is brutally honest, I don't think he is heavy-handed with his message. So there's no narrative voice that breaks in to explain to the reader that the word is inappropriate, but I think Alexie expects readers to realize that it's a little rich to be so aware of prejudice and still use a word like "faggot." Will some readers miss the point? Yes. But I don't think you can write a really good book while constantly catering to your stupidest reader. You just have to write the book and have some faith in your audience.