In 2007, I went to hear author Sherman Alexie do a reading from Flight. If you’re not familiar with Alexie, get familiar. I would start with Ten Little Indians if you’re up for short stories, or Tonto and The Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven if you’re in the mood for a novel. Or just read this New Yorker short story about a homeless Indian* who tries to buy back his grandmother’s dancing costume from a pawn shop.
We were sitting in the third floor “theater” of a Borders and Alexie, who kind of looks like an Indian Elvis, bounded up to stage and then promptly ignored the book that was sitting right there, ready to be read from.
Instead, he told us a story. For about twenty minutes, he unrolls this incredible tale about a teenage Indian kid time traveling through some of the most violent moments in American history. He rhythm is the definition of spell-binding.
When he’s done, he tells us that America will never elect a man named Barack Obama, that we like men with simple, two-syllable Anglo names, Lincoln, Johnson, Jackson, Reagan, Clinton, Nixon. He says that we, as a nation, don’t like being reminded of ethnic differentiation. At the time, it felt like he was telling us something we already knew.
It was only later, when I cracked that book that he had ignored, did I realize that Alexie had recounted from memory one of its stories. He had modified the ending to suit the audience, but it was the same story, nearly verbatim. I’d never seen anything like it. I wonder where he was on November 4, 2008.
*I would say “Native American,” but Alexie doesn’t, so take out your PC anger out on him please!
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