Monday, November 19, 2007

s is for storyteller


sherman alexie was in town yesterday as part of the cleveland public library “writers and readers series.” talk about a stimulating sunday afternoon! sherman, who goes by junior to family and friends, is the embodiment of a ‘storyteller.’ whether he was talking about being the ‘oddball’ kid on his rez, eating government cheese, or having to deal with they myriad of health problems that plagued his early childhood, he had us in stitches. however, whatever story he was sharing, there was an underlying seriousness to all of sherman's stories - the seriousness cut right to the quick as to what it means to be a brown person, in general, and an indian, in particular, in contemporary american society.

the timing of alexie’s visit comes right on the heels of his winning the national book award in the young people’s literature category for his novel the absolutely true diary of a part-time indian. this gig in cleveland was his first public appearance since accepting the award on wednesday. alexie started off by apologizing for being a bit flustered and claimed he was experiencing some ‘post traumatic winning-a-big-ass-award syndrome.’ could have fooled me – he was superb, stupendous and all around spectacular!

during the q & a session following the talk (although it would be more fitting to call it a routine or a performance), the first person asked junior about what he thought of the cleveland baseball team. alexie pulled no punches and said that the wahoo image is “astonishingly racist.” he implored Cleveland not to hide behind the excuse of keeping chief wahoo because it’s tradition. after all there are lots of things that were once tradition but are no longer around. at one time slavery was considered a ‘tradition.’ alexie said he didn’t have anything against names such as "the indians " or "the warriors," but was totally against using images and mascots which are racist and demeaning. he told people to go home google “sambo” then google “chief wahoo” and they will find no difference. the audience strongly supported alexie's point of view and interrupted several times during this discussion with applause and murmurs of solidarity. click for links to read more on wahoo

commenting on how people react to his use of humor, alexie remarked “funny thing about humor is they don’t think I’m serious.”


s is also for stella the-studio-cat

pictures: skylight in passage connecting stokes wing to original library (cpl is the 3rd largest public library in the country!); slide show of alexie's talk; stella. all pictures taken 18 nov 2007

6 comments:

Julien said...

Hum, this is so typical... Chief Wahoo as an iconic representation of indians (or natives, forgive my english ;) is definitely racist. No doubt about it. But who said it was a generic icon ? People that are offended by it or that feel that it is demeaning as a symbol. The times have changed and we live in a civilization of symbols. Whereas it is fair not to encourage stupid behaviours by using wrong symbols, we must also consider that people know how to deal with every signal they get. It's called intelligence.

Maybe Wahoo only represents a sports team and sport is also a caricature of life, no ? So what's the point ? Where's the limit ? Any representation of a human group could be banned for the same reason ? We can find evil everywhere if we want to... And ban art, movies, cartoons, etc. It's so difficult to draw the line...

These are only questions... If you asked me I'd get rid of Wahoo just because it's so ugly as a mascot ;)

One more thing... Living with one's history is maybe the most important thing, including accepting the bad moments... Sometimes it looks like there are fights that are from the past, hence meaningless. One recent example : many people had outrageous behaviours against France and French people when we didn't go to Irak... That's was so unfair... Especially at the individual level. And none has apologized. You know what ? We don't care...

Salty Miss Jill said...

The more I learn about Sherman Alexie, the more I like him. What a great opportunity to have seen him!

Stella's a beautiful girl with her mask. :)

John Eaton said...

Sherman rocks, Kim, and so does Stella.

And there was about to be a frybread riot. :)

Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Unrelated to Mr. Alexie but on topic with storytellers -- thanksfor reminding me to get back to Mark Kurlansky's The Basque History of the World which I picked up tonight. What a perfect way to commemorate 34 years post-Franco on the 20th and to know that persistent resistance to oppression can ultimately pay off. Be sure to wear a beret Tuesday in celebration.

Pod said...

would stella let me squeeze her ears (gently)?

kimy said...

salty - check sherman's site, he may be coming to a library or bookstore near you!

walking about the library afterwards, we went up to the kid lit section & found a copy of an alexie book I hadn't read "flight" - feel an alexie binge coming on. along with reading the couple books of his I've missed, think I watch 'smoke signals' and 'the business of fancy dancing' again! good holiday fare!

ummmmm - frybread.

jt - love that pairing "persistent resistance" - oh my and today it's supposed to get to a balmy 60! I'll look odd with my beret! one of mark's other books, 'cod,' has long been on my personal top 10 book lists! now there's a fish story!

pod - stella would love you to gently squeeze her ears as long as you rub her belly too!