by Kami Cornwall
Guess who came to my home town and gave a presentation? What gave it away? Oh yeah. I put it in the title already. Well for those of you who may not know him, Sherman Alexie grew up on the Coer D'Alene (pronounced CORE-duh-LANE) reservation just north of me here in Washington. He is a prolific writer and has published such books as, Smoke Signals (which got turned into a movie), The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, just to name a few. Some of his books have been controversial but he always writes straight from the heart. He also graduated from WSU.
He talked about his life growing up, leaving the reservation, and throws in some tongue-in-cheek humor all along the way. I was honored to have had the opportunity to accompany a friend of mine who got an inside pass to meet him ahead of time. So we not only got to see the presentation, but we got to meet him and take a photo by his side beforehand. But wait...it gets better.
Shortly after his presentation he opened things up for a Q and A. One person asked him about what it was like to come to a school that was probably 97% white. To illustrate his point he said, "Let's see...who is the whitest person here?" He looked directly at me (I was sitting in the front row) and so I smiled and waved a little in response. "Yes," he continued as he motioned to me, "You. Come up here with me for a minute." I hopped on stage and bowed as giggles flitted throughout the coliseum.
As I approached I smiled and said, "Well, to be fair, I'm the whitest person I know." More giggles. Mr. Alexie gave me a sort of surprised look and then grinned a sly grin. He put his arm around me and said to the audience, "I have this scenario running in my head now. Something like...the Savage Native and the School Marm." Laughter erupted and I began to blush.
"What do you say? You wanna role play with me?" he teased. I shrugged a little maybe and as the audience ate it up I started to fan my face a little. More laughter. Then he said, "I'll wear the hoop skirt, but I'm not sure you can throw me over your shoulder and run off. What do you think?" Peals of laughter! I made like I was going to try but then laughed and said, "No, I don't think so."
He then illustrated his point clearly by saying, "Say I took this beautiful...white...girl, and I left her in Compton. How would she be treated? How would she feel?" Then he turned to me and asked, "How do you think you would feel?"
My answer? "Alone."
He thanked me for the perfect word for it and let me sit back down. That was last Thursday. At least four of my fellow students witnessed this and have brought it up each day this week in class, reliving and relishing the moment. "Sherman Alexie was totally macking on you! I was rolling...that was so funny! You're kind of a celebrity now!" and the list goes on. It was thrilling and embarrassing and completely fun as well as thought provoking. Thanks, Mr. Alexie! I'll never forget that night!