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The Value of Arrogance: On Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


17 June 2024

 

The Value of Arrogance: On Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

 

Sherman Alexie is a name I am quite familiar with. I’ve taught his short literacy narrative, Superman and Me, in my Composition I course for years, now. He was born and raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation with a drive to read and write. He has a platform, of sorts, promoting literacy for Native people living on reservations. Frankly, I love teaching Superman and Me and value Alexie for that narrative and its impact.

 

I wasn’t aware, until a student brought it to my more acute attention, that Alexie was recently (2018) in hot water on four counts of sexual harassment allegations.

 

So what was I to do when another Native student of mine from Minot, ND, gifted me a copy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian? I’ll tell you what I did: I read it, and I loved it.

 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is Alexie’s semiautobiographical novel detailing his own escape from Spokane Indian Reservation during his High School years and the years that followed. It is entertaining and inspiring, and it proves just how very far audacity and a touch of arrogance can carry someone. Alexie overcame a childhood of abject poverty with five siblings and two alcoholic parents to become the acclaimed author he is today. And his message in the book, for anyone who reads it, is that your destiny is not dictated by your family history or your current situation. There is so much hope (and laughter) to be found in this story. Like Superman and Me, it was a delight to read and restored some of my faith in humanity.

 

Another book currently at the top of my TBR pile is Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma by Claire Dederer. I haven’t read it yet, but it is supposed to explore this idea of whether we should appreciate the art of monsters like Picasso, Wagner, Michael Jackson. I already have my own view on this point, but am curious what Dederer writes about it: I feel I have no choice but to value Alexie’s work for what it is—for what it might accomplish in those who read it—despite the recent allegations against him.

 

The truth is that Alexie could not have had the successes he’s enjoyed without his audacity, his arrogance. Did he abuse his role? It appears to be the case. Still, his words in this book has reverberated (and will continue to reverberate) through generations—of Native people and others—inspiring them to achieve greater destinies. How can this be condemned?

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