The newly bestselling young adult author discusses his life as a part-time Indian
Sherman Alexie: Actually, yes. I signed a deal for a family memoir eight years ago, and this is a surgical excision. That memoir is about my family's history with World War II. And this year—my first year at the white high school—just didn't fit. So I pulled it out. And I didn't really think about it until a young adult editor asked me if I had an idea, and I thought, "Yes, I do."
Why did you make the book a novel rather than, say, a memoir for young people?
I didn't want it to be overtly self-aggrandizing. It still is, in some sense. It's a pretty amazing story, and I didn't want to write some rags to riches story. By making it fictional, I was able to change Arnold's journey a bit, make him at the same time smarter and more fragile in ways that made it a much more—I'm trying to think of the term—well, the funny thing is, by making it fictional, I made it more realistic.
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