Writer speaks about cultural issues, film

Will Conley

With wild gestures and a devil-may-care attitude, writer Sherman Alexie sparked a group of admiring listeners to laughter Tuesday afternoon.
The Native American poet, novelist and screenplay writer drew a crowd of about 70 people in a discussion about “Smoke Signals,” his first screenplay. He also spoke on different styles of writing and his success in the movie industry despite his heritage.
“He had some dynamic ideas that I haven’t thought about in terms of being a writer, and how cultures relate to other cultures,” said Ida Stephen, a participant in the discussion.
Alexie began the discussion by making a distinction between the types of writing he has done: independent, through his poems and novels and collaborative, through “Smoke Signals.”
“Making movies is a painful, panic-stricken, boring, collaborative effort where you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Alexie said. “And that’s the great thing. You don’t know what elements are going to come together with all these people to create this magic moment.”
The author also spoke on criticism of art. Because of the collaborative effort between many people in filmmaking, there is difficulty in giving credit or blame to a single person, thereby making all criticism inaccurate.
Despite his personal success, Alexie spoke on the position of Native Americans in the current American film industry, adding that although literature is “infinitely better” than film, he hopes to use more Native American actors in popular films.
He said that Native Americans, and minorities in general, have trouble establishing themselves in film. For example, when he was looking for a Native American filmmaker to produce his film, he could find no one to take on the task.
“None of the established Indian filmmakers called. Not one of them. Never. Not a word to me … because to get themselves made, they had to go through white people. So they were kissing the ass of white filmmakers, trying to get their stuff made,” he said.
The author then commented on the limitations that some minorities have in the business, although his aspirations seem to have no bounds. He said he hopes to eventually own his own professional filmmaking company.
“There is a glass ceiling in film. I’m there,” Alexie said.
Alexie’s many achievements were laid out by Ramon Gonzalez, an assistant English professor at the University. Gonzalez listed just a few of Alexie’s works, which include: “Reservation Blues,” “The Business of Fancydancing,” “Indian Killer” and “The Lone Ranger.”
He has received numerous awards and recognition from such publications as Reader’s Digest and The Boston Globe. Additionally, “The Lone Ranger” is used in hundreds of college literature courses nationwide.
The author, who lives in Seattle, will be releasing a book of short stories in January and a book of poems in February. In addition to writing novels, poetry and screenplays, Alexie does some stand-up comedy.
After speaking, Alexie signed books for his readers and talked with the audience members. Throughout the afternoon he retained his sense of humor, mentioning only one bad element about his journeys.
“To quote the great Dan Vogel, ‘The audiences are heavenly but the traveling is hell.'”