Before his PA&L lecture at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Sherman Alexie visited Franklin High School and the Native American Youth Family Center (NAYA). At both visits, Alexie kept his audience laughing throughout. When a student asked about his sense of humor, Alexie responded that humor is a response: one can either laugh or cry. He also said he uses humor to challenge people, and that humor can be deadly serious.
At Franklin, students had to apply for one of 35 spots at the intimate gathering in the library. Fifteen members of the Native American Club were also there. He teased the Native American students about having iPhones and listed the great things they had in common, saying, “We’re funny. We’re cool-looking. And 99% of the rest of the world loves us; just not the people who live next door.” He commented on how artistic Native American culture is, noting that it is ordinary to paint, dance, bead, weave, or sing. As for Alexie, he chose to pursue the art of storytelling.
At NAYA, Alexie spoke of feeling conflicted about leaving the reservation to attend school at Rearden HS, saying, “After leaving to school I felt separate, but through writing I felt like I belonged again.” He spoke of reading the anthology Songs From This Earth On Turtle’s Back and realizing that he could write poetry about his own experiences.
Both groups asked Alexie for advice to young people who want to write. He responded that they should “read books, books, books, books, books, books. Books. The formula should be to read one thousand pages for every one page you try to write,” and, “The quality of your life is in direct proportion to how many books you read.”