October 16, 2011

Alexie and Erdrich deserve Nobel Prizes

Why Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich Should Win the Nobel PrizeAmerican literature, or what Salon views as a canon or sorts (exclusively white authors), is weak on race. Probably the best novel on race by Salon’s stable of worthy-ish writers is Roth’s The Human Stain. It’s good, but it’s not really a direct engagement on race. First, it’s set on campus at a liberal arts college, maybe the whitest place around, and a frequent safe ground for American writers. Second, it’s not really about race. It’s about a white guy who finds out he’s black. And he suffers horribly for it. That’s the best Americans can do?

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.
Comment:  For more on Alexie and Erdrich, see Bestselling Native Children's Books.

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