The recent revelations against Sherman Alexie have caused a huge shift in our classroom agenda. Once excited to read from his collection, Face. Our class is now faced with not only having the discussion about how to go about accepting or rejecting the work of an artist (or author) because of the way they choose to live their life (and take advantage of others) or choosing a new set of works to read instead.
Since the majority of our class are females, and the issue is just too recent to fully dive into maybe even thinking about separating the issue from the author, we have opted to look at works by other Native American authors. However, there is still a discussion to be had about Alexie and his actions. I personally have a very hard to time separating the author from the work unless I read the work first without any additional contexts. If I learn afterward about the personality or character of the author I am somewhat inclined to overlook it because I have already come to my own conclusions about the work on my own. The characters/ subjects of the works have already been disassociated in my head. I also find that this is particularly easy with fiction (for obvious reasons). Then, going forward, I will just not support that author by feeding into their lifestyle and what they choose to portray. I also think it is important to note that readers, in general, have a much easier time separating the author/artist from the work if that author/ artist is already dead. Again, for obvious reasons. This is much more difficult when the person is still alive.
Should we say that the work of Sherman Alexie is terrible because he is a terrible human? No, he is a talented writer who has made some more than poor choices. Should we stop teaching him? I don’t know. I suppose that is a personal preference question. What I do know is that now his career and reputation have been forever marred by these revelations, and the century we live in is one of self-awareness and activism. It will not be forgotten.
For a list of options of works to teach other than Alexie’s see here.
Now, Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program…
In this next unit, we will be discussing the works of Native American Authors. The authors are many with a wide range of works. For today, we are discussing selections from the works of N. Scott Momaday and Simon Ortiz.
Today’s criticism was fairly interesting. An article by Paula Allen discusses a wide volume of Native American works and a common theme they all seemed to share: alienation. This alienation, Allen claims, is distinctive of American Indian literature. Typically the main character of the story, or a group of character, will experience this alienation as a sense of “otherness.” This “otherness” attributed to a stranger is not the issue. However, “It is when the tribal person is the stranger that the internal conflict and the process of alienation occurs” (Allen 3). Throughout the article, she cites several reasons why this is and why this is such a prominent theme in works by American Indian Authors. For example, she writes: “Alienation is more than the experience of a single individual; it is a primary experience of all bicultural American Indians in the United States–and, to one extent or another, this includes virtually every American Indian here” (Allen 4). One of the main sources of origin for this feeling of alienation within bicultural Indians comes from a systematic problem of (she specifically mentions the United States) making the percentage of Native American Indian you are a necessary piece of information to know. If you aren’t of a certain percentage you don’t qualify. Yet, these people still are discriminated against in white American society. So, if they can’t belong to their tribe and they can’t belong in white society, where do they go? They have been thrust into their own liminal space as we have seen before.
The works of Momaday are a collection of both prose and poems, Ortiz’s work is strickly poems. Both of these sets of works discuss the topics of life, love, tradition, and assimilation (just to name a few) from an American Indiana perspective. Unsurprisingly, the works also reflect a subject that was discussed in a criticism read earlier this week. I believe it was Martin’s article, where the relationship between the land and a group of people is discussed. This is heavily prominent throughout his works. This doesn’t surprise me because American Indians are very in tune with the land they have, and practice not taking in excess. Their writing is full of rich, colorful, and fantastical imagery which really helps bring the reader into the experience being discussed.
Ortiz, Simon. “Sand Creek.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature., edited by Paul Lauter, 6th ed., E, Wadsworth, 2010, pp. 3145–3151.
Momaday, N. Scott. “The Way to Rainy Mountain.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature., edited by Paul Lauter, 6th ed., E, Wadsworth, 2010, pp. 2882–2891.
Neary, Lynn. “’It Just Felt Very Wrong’: Sherman Alexie’s Accusers Go On The Record.” NPR, 5 Mar. 2018, http://www.npr.org/2018/03/05/589909379/it-just-felt-very-wrong-sherman-alexies-accusers-go-on-the-record.
“The Single Story of ‘Part-Time Indian.’” Booktoss, 7 Mar. 2018, booktoss.blog/2018/03/07/the-single-story-of-part-time-indian/.
“A Collection of Newspaper.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Goodshoot/Alamy, http://www.britannica.com/topic/newspaper.