“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” - William Blake
by Rod Lotter
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Twenty years ago, famed Seattle author Sherman Alexie made his first appearance at the Elliott Bay Book Company, which was located in Pioneer Square at the time. Back then, he was a young, up-and-coming writer with a wry sense of humor, strong political beliefs and his first novel “The Business of Fancydancing: Stories and Poems” under his belt. Since then, he has racked up dozens of awards and has become the most famous writer in Seattle, and perhaps the most famous American Indian writer alive today.
At 11 p.m. on October 1, Alexie made his return to the Elliott Bay Book Company, which is now located on 10th Avenue, to read excerpts from his newest book, “Blasphemy.”
Alexie’s newest book is a collection of 31 stories, some of which are new and some of which have been published before.
Elliott Bay Book Company owner Peter Aaron said “Blasphemy” is “like a double-album from one of your favorite musical artists. It is a collection of some old favorites and some new pieces, and it works. It works because the context has shifted over time, and has given the old stories a new meaning.”
The festivities at Elliott Bay Book Company kicked off at 10 p.m. with music, food courtesy of the Off The Rez food truck and a man making balloon animals for the guests. The musical highlights included a performance from the One Gun Slingers, a group of pow-wow drummers from the Colville Indian Reservation. The group played two songs, including “John Wayne’s Teeth,” which was featured on the soundtrack to the film “Smoke Signals.”
Outside of the literary world, “Smoke Signals” was many people’s first introduction to Alexie. The movie was based on a series of short stories by Alexie that were featured in his book “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” Alexie wrote the screenplay. He also wrote and directed “The Business of FancyDancing,” in 2002, which was based on his first novel.
When the band was done playing, Alexie took the stage and stared out among a crowd of a couple hundred, mostly-white people and, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, said, “When you guys hear them sing, you must be ashamed of your culture. You genocided their ass, and they are up here saying ‘fuck you.’”
The crowd erupted in laughter as Alexie explained that he suffers from a Cinderella-like misfortune: when the clock strikes midnight, he turns into an Indian Revolutionary.
He then read a new story from the book, “Midnight Basketball.”
The story relayed the frustrations that come with playing basketball with someone that you love, but is just not very good at playing the game. In the end, the story was about friendship and all the foibles that come with it.
There are very few writers on the planet that can explain the game of basketball as elegantly and soulfully as Alexie, and that is because, for him, basketball is not just a game, but rather a conduit towards understanding your fellow man. There is no doubt that Alexie is the poet laureate of Seattle SuperSonics fans, and is one of the greatest advocates the city has.
Alexie closed out the night with a short story called “Fame,” and then signed books for the fans that managed to stick around until well after midnight.
The night was full of laughter and music, and Alexie left his fans with no doubt that he is one of the best voices Seattle has in terms of social justice, basketball, humor and life in the Pacific Northwest.