Sunday, February 25, 2018

An Open Letter About Sherman Alexie

Eds. Note: Beneath the letter are links with more info and quotes I am adding, with permission, from Joy Harjo, Janet McAdams, and Susan Power. I will add additional ones as they become public. If you are looking for other Native writers, see the Best Books link.  

February 25, 2018

Dear Readers of American Indians in Children's Literature,

Yesterday, I removed Sherman Alexie's photograph from AICL's gallery of Native writers and illustrators. Since then, I have begun going through the eleven years of AICL posts, making edits to any page that has referenced Alexie or his work.

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.

I've been studying and writing about children's and young adult books about Native people since the 1990s. 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.

He's also undermined Native writers and writing in this way: his books feed mainstream expectations.

Alexie's books don't give readers the depth of understanding that they need to know who we are, what our histories have been, what we face on a daily basis, and what gives us the strength to carry on. Far too many people adore him and think that they're hip to Native life because they read his books. If you're one of those people, please set his books aside. Read other Native writers. Don't inadvertently join him in hurting other Native writers.

I understand that several news outlets, including NPR and the New York Times, are working on news articles about him, but that the people who are speaking to the reporters are afraid. I don't know what these news articles will say, when they get published. When I see them, I will link to them, below this letter.

In the first few years of AICL, I promoted Alexie's work, but that tapered off as I saw how little he did to help other Native writers.

To all of you who he has hurt, I apologize. I have no doubt that every time you saw his name mentioned here, it added to the weight you already carry. I'm sorry.

Debbie Reese
Editor, American Indians in Children's Literature

Update at 4:36 on 2/25/18: I will not publish comments that defend Alexie or that attempt to cast doubt on those he has hurt.



In this timeline, articles specific to, or that reference, Alexie are in bold font. Others are provided for context in children's literature, and in Indigenous networks. If you see additional items I can add, please let me know in a comment (comments are open to those suggestions). This is a selectively curated list. The items listed are here because they each have something new or unique to offer.

October 10, 2017--Adrienne Keene published The Native Harvey Weinsteins at her blog, Native Appropriations. 

January 3, 2018--Drew Himmelstein at School Library Journal published Children's Publishing Reckons with Sexual Harassment in Its Ranks. Several people submitted comments about Alexie.

February 7, 2018--Anne Ursu published the outcome of her survey: Sexual Harassment in the Children's Book Industry at Medium.

February 12, 2018--Karen Jensen published Sexual harassment in Kidlit at her blog, "Teen Librarian Toolbox" at School Library Journal. See, especially, point #5, "Survivors don't owe you their stories."

February 13, 2018--John Maher published Sexual Harassment In Children's Publishing Reaches a Crisis Point at Publisher's Weekly. 

February 19, 2018--Drew Himmelstein published Unpacking Anne Ursu's Survey and the Fallout, with Changes Coming to Events, at School Library Journal. Comments refer to Alexie. 

February 21, 2018--David M. Perry at Pacific Standard published How Will Publishing Deal with Lemony Snicket Amid #MeToo? It is the first (to my knowledge) news outlet to name Alexie within the body of the article (he cited the comments at SLJ). 

February 21, 2018--I started a Twitter thread linking to both articles, and soon after that, added links to twitter threads from others who were writing about Alexie. It links to a writer and reporter named Litsa Dremousis, who was Alexie's friend for years before finding out he had sexually harassed women. See this thread for a recap she did Sunday morning, Feb 25th, where she says that eleven different news outlets are reaching out to her. She's helping people get in touch with the media. I will continue to add to my thread (which includes her earlier threads on Alexie). 
[Update on March 3, 2018: On Feb 28, Alexie issued a statement that disclosed a consensual sexual relationship between Alexie and Dremousis. She confirmed what he said and stated that her public tweeting about him is not retaliation over the affair. Reactions to that news range, widely.]

February 26, 2018--With her permission, I am sharing a Facebook comment (posted on Feb 25) from author and poet, Janet McAdams, that speaks to the mainstream's embrace of Alexie:
A number of years ago I submitted an article on the very fine, complex, and --to my mind--important writing of a Native poet to PMLA. One reviewer, in rejecting it, wanted to know why I was writing on this poet, whom he'd never heard of. Why not James Welsh (his spelling) or Sherman Alexie?  
No writing community should ever be / have been reduced to or defined by any one author. As a scholar and editor of Native writing, I've often felt frustrated by the ways Alexie's (very uneven) writing eclipsed other writing. Horrifying to find out that all that power, his anointment as The Native American Writer, also made way for other, much more material kinds of violence.
February 26, 2018--With her permission, I am sharing a Facebook comment (posted on Feb 25) from author, poet, and musician, Joy Harjo:
This has been going on for years. And have had women calling or writing me about abuse of different kinds for years.
February 26, 2018--With her permission, I am sharing a Facebook comment (posted on Feb 25) from author, Susan Power
This isn't a surprise since I've heard stories from friends who experienced abusive treatment firsthand, friends I trust without question.
February 26, 2018--The Institute of American Indian Arts issued a statement on their Facebook page (posted on Feb 26 at 4:06 PM). This is a change from their press release on January 20:
We have received several recent inquiries about Sherman Alexie’s relationship with the IAIA MFA program. For the record, Mr. Alexie served IAIA as an independent contractor intermittently between July 2013 and July 2017. His association with IAIA officially ended on October 27, 2017. 
Given he is no longer involved with IAIA, the Sherman Alexie Scholarship, funded by a third-party foundation, has been renamed the MFA Alumni Scholarship. The award and the terms of that award remain the same.

February 27, 2018--Sarah Graham published Revered Writer Sherman Alexie faces misconduct accusations at the Santa Fe New Mexican (posted on Feb 26). Here's an excerpt:
Jon Davis, director of IAIA’s Master of Fine Arts program, said officials “expedited” a name change to a scholarship that was in Alexie’s name as allegations against him mounted on social media sites and public forums.

February 28, 2018--Author and scholar, Deborah Miranda, published Inmate #A-93223: In the San Quentin of my Mind (posted on Feb 27). The first half of her post is about her own father; the second half is an account of her interactions with Alexie and her support of women who are speaking about being bullied, threatened, and sexually harassed.  

February 28, 2018--Kevin Abourezk published Sherman Alexie stays silent after being accused of sexual harassment (published on Feb 28) at Indianz

February 28, 2018--Claire Kirch published Indie Booksellers Grapple with Sherman Alexie Sexual Harassment Charges at Publishers Weekly. 

February 28, 2018--John Maher published Sherman Alexie Latest in Slate of Literary Harassment Allegations at Publishers Weekly. 

February 28, 2018--Kevin Abourezk published Sherman Alexie breaks silence on allegations of sexual harassment at Indianz. 

February 28, 2018--Claire Kirch published Indie Booksellers Grapple with Sherman Alexie Sexual Harassment Charges at Publishers Weekly

March 1, 2018--Vincent Schilling published Sherman Alexie Called Out for Sexual Misconduct for over a Twenty-Year Period at Indian Country Today.

March 1, 2018--John Maher published Alexie Addresses Charges in Statement at Publishers Weekly

March 2, 2018--Mary Annette Pember published Sherman Alexie and the Longest Running #MeToo Movement in History at Rewire. 

March 2, 2018--Felicia Fonseca of the Associated Press published Readers reevaluate Sherman Alexie amid sex misconduct allegations at KOMO News.

March 2, 2018--Liz Jones, Ann Dornfeld, and Gil Aegerter published Sherman Alexie on harassment allegations: I have 'harmed other people' at KUOW. 

March 2, 2018--Lauren Porosoff published Why I'll Never Teach This Powerful Book Again at Teaching Tolerance

March 4, 2018--Colleagues are sharing articles that say--better than I did, in my Open Letter--problems with Alexie's writings. I'll be adding them as I see them. See The Laughing Indian by Lou Cornum, published in The New Inquiry on November 12, 2012. 

March 5, 2018--Lynn Neary published 'It Just Felt Very Wrong:' Sherman Alexie's Accusers Go On the Record at NPR. 

March 6, 2018--Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr. published What do the Allegations Against Sherman Alexie Mean for Native Literature? at Electric Lit

March 6, 2018--Paul Constant published Finding My Way Through the Troubling Sherman Alexie Stories at The Seattle Review of Books. 

March 6, 2018--Liz Jones published What These Women Couldn't Say Publicly about Sherman Alexie Until Now at KUOW. 

March 6, 2018--Kevin Abourezk published Sherman Alexie Caused Hurt Even Before Sexual Harassment Scandal at Indianz. 

March 9, 2018--Hillel Italie of Associated Press published Sherman Alexie declines literary award at Washington Post. 

March 11, 2018--Lynn Neary published Sherman Alexie Postpones Memoir's Paperback Release Amid Sexual Harassment Claims at NPR.

March 12, 2018--Jacqueline Keeler published Why Reading Sherman Alexie Was Never Enough at Yes Magazine. 

March 21, 2018--The American Indian Library Association Rescinds its 2008 Youth Literature Award to Sherman Alexie


campbele said...


I hope everyone reads this post carefully and when they realize how much you're not saying that they realize you're not centering this on Alexie, but rather on his survivors. I hope everyone reading this realizes how difficult it is for marginalized people to speak out publicly about one of their own. I realize how difficult this had to be to post, but we do what me must.

Devera Chandler said...

Thank you, Deb. Those of us who have experienced issues relates to #metoo, greatly appreciate what you have done with this post and the site.

Rukhsana Khan said...

Dear Debbie, so sorry it has come to this. I know exactly what you're going through because I've been struggling with this same phenomenon with regards to books about Muslims. It's often the books that inadvertently serve mainstream interests and prejudices that get the promotion, not the books and authors who are striving to present a nuanced and accurate approach to their culture's representation.
Keep up for good fight.

Beverly Slapin said...

Thank you, Debbie. Your courage and your voice are important and appreciated, especially when the work gets as difficult as this.

Jen Jen said...

I have heard about this from excellent native writers I know. I have heard he has actually stolen folks work when they asked for an opinion of their own work or help. A choice greatly regretted. I know he does very little for the native communities here in his home state. I also noticed when he speaks it's reherarsed and repeated word for word engagement after engagement. Not many would stand against some one as economically rewarded as he. Much appreciation for your solidarity.

Merry Malinche said...

I agree we should be reading other Native American writers besides Alexie. I would greatly appreciate recommendations of other Native American writers.

Beth Owl's Daughter said...

I, too, would appreciate recommendations and alternative suggestions.

Debbie Reese said...

Alternatives are in Best Books tab above, or in the Photo Gallery.

Tigera Consciente said...

Thank you for having the courage to help make the literary arts world safer.

Charlene Sleeper said...

Thank you Debbie.

Jean Mendoza said...

If you're seeking suggestions of other Native authors, you might consider looking at some anthologies. There's some great writing in older collections such as Reinventing the Enemy's Language (edited by Joy Harjo and Gloria Bird) or Spider Woman's Granddaughters, edited by Paula Gunn Allen. Both are older collections but that's not a bad thing.

Debbie Reese said...

After posting this comment, I (site owner) will close the comment option.

I believe the people who are speaking about this.

Comments that invite debate about their legitimacy are dismissive of them and hurtful, too.

anon105123 said...

Not sure if my other comment went through--Why did you redact some previous posts about Alexie instead of just adding the disclaimer as you did on others?

Debbie Reese said...

Anon--I'm making my way through them, re-reading and thinking about each item. At this point, I think all the posts have the note on top but going through each one to do strike-thru on content is a different task and takes longer.