Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich have been writing about race for decades. They confront the question of race head on. They’re honest about it, especially Alexie. Americans are racists. So are American Indians, and blacks, and Latino/as, and Asians. We all are, and American literature runs from that reality, trying to avoid it, or cover it up. Derrick Bell didn’t run from it. He dealt with it. Alexie writes about Indians in white communities, Indians who sold out to join white America and how they can’t go back home, and Indians who hate whites so much they kill them. Erdrich writes about mixed race people of every stripe you can find in the northern plains. She adds the element of gender that’s beautiful and powerful and nasty.
America’s “canon,” the people Salon deems worthy of discussion, just don’t do any of these things.