September 12, 2008

How Sherman Alexie succeeds

Sherman AlexieThough he wanted to be a doctor when he started school at Washington State University in Spokane, Alexie quickly discovered his aptitude for writing, and he set about consciously learning how to write like (and act like) a real writer: His teacher, the poet Alex Kuo, taught students "how to live a writer's life" by making them read their work aloud at open mics in Spokane. Alexie worked as an assistant for WSU's reading series, often playing host to (and carefully observing) visiting authors. "Carolyn Kizer was in Spokane," he says. "I drove her around and she taught me a lot in one day about being a writer. She's this regal, formalist poet, and she said to me: 'Don't fuck groupies.'"

He also learned by example what not to do: "We had all these incredible writers I admired so much and they would be so fucking dead. It was like a corpse standing up there. How could you write something so passionate and be so dispassionate when you're reading it?" So he practices reading? "Oh yeah. I stand in front of mirrors like everybody suspects. There are people who sell just as many books or even more books than I do and they get tiny readings. I get hundreds, sometimes thousands, wherever I go, and I think my career is built on it. If anything, it helps me stay on the lecture circuit, which is where I get the money so that I can write."
As the article notes, "He spends an average of one week each month traveling the country to speak":At readings, he talks with a standup comedian's confidence and charm; years ago, a sold-out Town Hall audience was with him every second as he riffed on topics like how people expect him to have mystical Native-American-healing or fortune-telling powers, or why only white people feel the need to climb mountains without oxygen tanks. I've seen him read a half-dozen times now, and he always makes people laugh and cry with stories that are kind of true and kind of false. He is that rarest of beasts: the extroverted, hilarious author who loves to perform.Comment:  I heard Alexie speak once. He's good, all right.

For more on the subject, see All About Sherman Alexie.

No comments: