Sherman Alexie novel tops list of books Americans want censored

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was most frequently ‘challenged’ book in US libraries in 2014


Anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence’ ... Sherman Alexie. Photograph: Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns
Anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence’ … Sherman Alexie. Photograph: Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns


By Alison Flood, The Guardian

Sherman Alexie’s award-winning young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tops a list of the books readers tried hardest to remove from the shelves of America’s libraries last year.

Announcing the top 10 titles most frequently “challenged” in the US in 2014, the American Libraries Association said that it had been “tracking a significant number of challenges to diverse titles”, and that “authors of colour, as well as books with diverse content, are disproportionately challenged and banned”.

Winner of the National Book Award in 2007, the Native American writer Alexie’s semi-autobiographical tale was removed from the curriculum in Idaho schools last year. According to the Idaho Statesman, this story of a boy who leaves his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to go to an all-white high school was criticised by one local for containing words “we do not speak in our home”, and because it makes “reference to masturbation, contains profanity and has been viewed by many as anti-Christian”.

Alexie said at the time that “book banners want to control debate and limit the imagination. I encourage debate and celebrate imagination.” The ALA said his novel was challenged for reasons ranging from being “sexually explicit”, to its “depictions of bullying”. It takes the top spot from Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series, which was 2013’s most challenged book over its “offensive language [and] violence”.

Eight of 2014’s top 10 challenged books include “diverse content”, said the ALA. Second-placed was Marjane Satrapi’s acclaimed graphic novel Persepolis, about growing up during the Iranian revolution, cited for being “politically, racially, and socially offensive”.

Third was Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell’s picture book about two male penguins who rear a chick together, And Tango Makes Three, and fourth was Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, about a black girl who prays to have blue eyes like her classmates.

The ALA pointed to the author Malinda Lo’s analysis of its top 10 banned books over the last decade. Writing last autumn, Lo found that 52% of the books challenged or banned in the 10-year period included “diverse” content. “Books that fall outside the white, straight, abled mainstream are challenged more often than books that do not destabilise the status quo,” she wrote.

“This isn’t surprising, but the extent to which diverse books are represented on these lists – as a majority – is quite disheartening. Diversity is slim throughout all genres of books and across all age groups – except when it comes to book challenges. The message this sends is loud and clear: diversity is actually under attack. Minority perspectives are being silenced every year.”

The ALA’s office for intellectual freedom received 311 reports about “attempts to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves” in 2014. The number is equivalent to the 307 challenges recorded in 2013, and significantly down from 464 in 2012. Most challenges – 35% – came from parents in 2014, with the sexually explicit nature of a text the most cited (34%) reason for a challenge.

The top 10 also features Robie Harris’s guide to puberty and sexual health, It’s Perfectly Normal, in fifth place. The book, revealed the ALA, was challenged for containing nudity, and for covering “sex education”, for being “sexually explicit”, and “unsuited to age group”. It was also, said the libraries organisation, alleged to contain “child pornography”.

The list is completed with Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Jaycee Dugard’s A Stolen Life and Raina Telgemeier’s Drama.

The 2014 Top 10 Frequently Challenged Books

1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying.”

2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”.

3. And Tango Makes Three Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”

4. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”

5. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleged child pornography”

6. Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group

7. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence

8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”

9. A Stolen Life Jaycee Dugard
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group

10. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: sexually explicit

Sherman Alexie Keeps Crowd in Stitches, Praises Student Activists

Photos by Jack McNeelA dapper Sherman Alexie on stage in Spokane, Washington.
Photos by Jack McNeel
A dapper Sherman Alexie on stage in Spokane, Washington.


Sherman Alexie could make a very good living strictly as a humorist — he’s that good. A large crowd in Spokane recently laughed themselves to tears through an hour and 45 minute routine on subjects ranging from his books being banned, body hair, funerals, gay marriage, basketball, his family, and more.

Nobody was spared as Alexie interacted with the crowd and his own family members, and he laughed at his own “inadequacies”. “When you’ve been married 20 years you have to spice things up. I’m getting older. I’m middle aged — 47. I’m at the age now that I need more foreplay than my wife. Honey, if you listen to some of my worries and fears for the next 15 minutes I’ll be ready.” The crowd exploded in laughter and Alexie joined right in.

RELATED: And Stephen Colbert’s Replacement Is…Sherman Alexie?

“This last year I feel like I’ve aged dramatically. I have more body hair than any Indian guy is supposed to have. I keep thinking one of my grandmothers lied. One of my grandmothers was getting it on with a Jesuit. I can just feel it. I’m like a little bit Catholic,” he laughed and the crowd roared.

“The hardest part are the random hairs. I’m getting ear hair. I’m getting gray nose hairs. You can’t hide them because it’s dark in your nostrils. It doesn’t matter what color you are as a human being, nostrils are all the same. Our nostrils are really multi-cultural.”

The dialogue continued, the stories getting wilder as he progressed and a bit more “colorful.”

His book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian was recently challenged by a school board in Meridian, Idaho. “People would stand up and testify against my book. One woman was like, ‘these children come from our wombs!’ It’s funny but it’s sad,” Alexie said. “Apparently she thought we didn’t know that! I think we need to have ‘The Talk’ with Meridian.”

Alexie explained that “an amazing, courageous student, Brady Kissel,” testified at the meeting and had a petition signed by 350 students asking that the book not be banned. Another young lady raised enough money to purchase enough money to buy 350 of the books, which they distributed at a city park in Boise.

“The craziest part of it is that as they were distributing the books one of the parents called the police and said kids were distributing pornography in the park,” Alexie explained. The police arrived, checked it out, and left. Sherman’s publisher heard of this and sent an additional 350 copies to be distributed free.

RELATED: Idaho Students Get 700 Free Copies of Challenged Sherman Alexie Book

This novel won the American Library Association’s 2009 Odyssey Award as the best new audio book for children and young adults.

The two young ladies were on hand at the event in Spokane. The author had them stand for well deserved applause.

Alexie himself was in town to support the Salish School of Spokane, a school dedicated to teaching Salish to youngsters. It’s the native language of local tribes but few elders remain who still speak fluent Salish. Money raised this night will go to support the school and Sherman donated his time to attract a large crowd.



Sherman Alexie, Tom Robbins jumpstart Skagit River Poetry Festival


May 12, 2014

The eighth annual Skagit River Poetry Festival in La Conner kicks off at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 15, with Sherman Alexie and Tom Robbins swapping literary wit and wisdom on stage, after a feast of fine local food at the benefit Poet’s Table dinner at La Conner Elementary School.

Through Sunday, Mary 18, such notable poets as Evelyn Lau, Robert Hass, Mark Doty, Elizabeth Woody and Kwame Dawes will read and discuss their art in venues throughout La Conner.

Sunday is a day for workshops with top poets. Details: 360-770-7184,

Idaho Students Get 700 Free Copies of Challenged Sherman Alexie Book

source: school junior Brady Kissel holding a copy of Sherman Alexie's 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
High school junior Brady Kissel holding a copy of Sherman Alexie’s ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.


Indian Country Today Media Network


When it comes to banning books, it’s the same old story — tell someone they can’t read a text and you’ll just make them seek it out.

In Meridian, Idaho, parents succeeded in getting Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian removed from the curriculum of Mountain View High School. The book, published in 2007, won a National Book Award, but has become a frequent target of parents seeking to sanitize their children’s reading material because of some language and frank discussion of sexuality. In Meridian, some object to the book as anti-Christian as well.

The book is not “banned” per se, but “challenged” — it has been taken off the school reading list, but remains on the school library’s shelves, pending review.

Stacks of Alexie's book, which was handed out for free on World Book Night.
Stacks of Alexie’s book, which was handed out for free on World Book Night.


When Sara Baker, a student at the University of Washington, and her friend Jen Lott, learned that the book had been challenged, they decided to get involved. They started a page at to raise funds to purchase 350 copies of the book, which they planned to distribute for free to Meridian students. The campaign met its goal, and the books were purchased through Rediscovered Books, a bookstore in Boise. Brady Kissel, a junior  at Mountain View, spearheaded the plan to distribute them, and on the evening of April 23 — World Book Night — over 225 copies were handed out, and the rest went to Rediscovered Books, where they remained available for free.

Today, Rediscovered announced on its Facebook page that it had run out of books — but this isn’t over yet. Alexie’s publisher (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) donated another 350 copies, which are on their way.

Alexie himself weighed in on the matter, writing in a letter to his publisher, “I am honored by the hundreds of Meridian students who showed incredible passion and courage for books. Mine, yes, but literature in general. And Sara Baker and Jennifer Lott are friggin’ superheroes. If I ever get caught in a fire, I’m calling them.”



Campaign To Get Sherman Alexie Book To Idaho Students Tops Goal

File photo of Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian."Kraemer Family Library Flickr
File photo of Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”
Kraemer Family Library Flickr


By Jessica Robinson, NW News Network

Two women in Washington have raised enough money to send 350 copies of a controversial book by Sherman Alexie to students in Meridian, Idaho.

It’s a reaction to the Meridian school board’s decision to suspend use of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Parents complained about profanity and sexual content in the novel.

University of Washington student Sara Baker and a friend in Spokane set up an online campaign to buy and distribute the book to Meridian students with the help of a local teacher. Baker says they received more than $3,000 from Idaho, Washington and at least 15 other states.

“I’ve heard from students that said they read the book and really loved it,” says Baker. “I’ve had English teachers tell me that they teach it in their curriculum and it engages students that hate to read. And then just general fans of the book that can’t believe the people who want to ban it even read the same book.”

The superintendent of the Meridian school district says a committee of teachers, administrators and parents is reviewing the high school reading list and may decide to retain “Part-Time Indian” next fall.

The 2007 young adult novel is inspired in part by Alexie’s own experience growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. The book often requires parental consent to read and is frequently targeted for removal. Earlier this winter, the school district in Sweet Home, Ore., considered pulling it from the classroom after parents complained, but the district ultimately kept the book.

In Idaho, the attention generated by the controversy has given Alexie a bump in local libraries and bookstores. There are more than 60 holds on “Part-Time Indian” at the Boise Public Library.

Bypassing ban on Sherman Alexie book: Buying it for Idaho students

Sherman Alexie:  Drive is on to supply copies of his young adult novel to students in Idaho school district which banned it from the curriculum. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Photo by Mike Urban)
Sherman Alexie: Drive is on to supply copies of his young adult novel to students in Idaho school district which banned it from the curriculum. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Photo by Mike Urban)

Source: Seattle P.I. Blog

Two young Washington state women are launching an effort to get copies of Sherman Alexie’s young adult novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian,” into the hands of teenagers in an Idaho school district that banned the book from its high school curriculum.

They are partnering with a teacher at Centennial High School in Meridian, Idaho; the school librarian; and a student who spoke up in defense of Alexie’s novel.  The semi-autobiographical novel tells of a 14-year-old Native American boy’s experience in an almost all-white high school.

The Meridian School Board voted 2-1 to exclude the book after parents objected to use of cuss words and references in the book to masturbation.

“The book is by a local author, it takes place partly in Idaho, deals with bullying and racial issues, it is fitting.  We were encouraged to see teachers speak out, and 350 students sign a petition, so . . . if they can’t have the book in their curriculum, let students read it on their free time.  Let’s give ‘em the book,” said Sara Baker, a University of Washington student.

She and friend Jennifer Lott of Spokane hope to pull off their book-buying plan in time for the Alexie books to be distributed on April 23, World Book Night.

“So far, between donated copies and donated dollars, we have about 25 books collected,” said Baker.  “Our goal is 100 but, ideally, we would like to have a copy for each of the 350 students who signed the petition.”

Baker and Lott are working with Stacy Lacy, a teacher who spoke out against the ban, and Brady Kissel, a student who presented 350 student signatures asking that “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” stay in the curriculum.

“It doesn’t seem like such a huge issue but censorship is something I’m very passionate about,” Kissel said in an email.

Those who wish to bypass the ban can send copies of Alexie’s book to Stacy Lacy, 12400 W. McMillan Road, Boise, ID 83713.

Or, if they wish to donate dollars to purchase the book, go to

Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and later went to largely white schools.  The 14-year-old lead character in “Diary,” a native boy named Arnold Spirit, shares many of Alexie’s own experiences as a young boy.

The novel won a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and also captured the American Library Association’s 2009 Odyssey Award for the best new audio book for children and young adults.  It received glowing praise in The New York Times Book Review.

Alexie now lives in Seattle.  He has written fiction and non-fiction as well as screenplays.

Oregon School District considers ban on Sherman Alexie novel



A school district in Sweet Home, Ore., is considering whether to pull a book by Northwest author Sherman Alexie from junior high classrooms.

Credit Kraemer Family Library / FlickrFile photo of "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian." An Oregon school district is considering whether to pull the book.
Credit Kraemer Family Library / Flickr
File photo of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” An Oregon school district is considering whether to pull the book.

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is frequently targeted for removal from school reading lists for its language and depictions of violence and sexuality.

The Sweet Home school district says it received five requests from parents to have the book re-evaluated.

“It’s not frustrating that parents want to have an alternative unit,” says eighth grade language arts teacher Chelsea Gagner. “Every parent has the right to know what their child’s education is like. I’m not frustrated with that. I am frustrated that a small handful of parents are trying to take it away from the rest of the kids.”

Gagner says her students are already about 100 pages into the book.

Parents had to give permission for their kid to participate in the unit on “Part-Time Indian” – and most did. But the superintendent of the district says the people who filed complaints worried the students who weren’t allowed to read the book would be singled out by their peers.

The school board hopes to make a decision next week.


Read more here.


Poetry works show Alexie at his best


Kathryn Smith The Spokesman-Review

January 12, 2014

Sherman Alexie
Sherman Alexie

Death. Family. Loss. Love. Wealth. Poetry. Spirituality. Genocide. Prejudice. Sherman Alexie’s new poetry collection, “What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned,” demonstrates the National Book Award-winning writer’s ability to tackle big themes, weaving them together in the context of his Indian identity and with his wry, unapologetic sense of humor.

And he wastes no time doing it. Alexie takes on all these topics in the collection’s first poem, the wide-ranging and powerful “Crazy Horse Boulevard,” always through the lens of his Indian identity (a member of the Spokane Tribe, he uses the term “Indian” almost exclusively). He addresses being Indian in a white world (“Most of the people who read this poem will be white people”), as well as within Indian culture, on and off the reservation (“Among my immediate family, I’m the only one who doesn’t live on the reservation. What does that say about me?”). The poem brings historical prejudices into a modern context, and Alexie calls things as he sees them, especially when it comes to the choices people make from what he sees as places of luxury (“If my sons, Indian as they are, contract some preventable disease from those organic, free-range white children and die, will it be legal for me to scalp and slaughter their white parents?”).

The focus on racial and cultural identity comes through strongest in the book’s first section. “Happy Holidays” pointedly discusses the complicated relationship modern Indians have with American holidays. “Sonnet, with Slot Machines” wrestles with the politics of Indian casinos and issues of gambling.

“Slot Machines” is one of many so-called “sonnets” in the book; the poems comprise the second section and are scattered throughout the others. In labeling these poems sonnets, Alexie initiates a conversation about form, forgoing the traditional 14-line rhyme and metrical structure and instead following formulas of his own. This reinvention of form allows Alexie to stay true to his own voice, never sacrificing his natural vocabulary for the sake of someone else’s definition of “poetic.” Yet Alexie pays homage to formal poetry and to his literary forbears by recognizing the significance of the form’s constraints while giving it his own spin.

Whatever form he uses, Alexie stays true, too, to his own style of storytelling. And “What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned” is, at its core, a book of stories, told piecemeal, which hit the reader with their poignancy in the way Alexie weaves the seemingly disparate pieces together. In “Sonnet, with Tainted Love” he does this with a missing persons case, nightmares and the movie “Dirty Dancing.” “Hell” links Dante, Jimmy Durante, Moses and a fear of heights.

At 156 pages, it’s lengthy for a poetry collection, and the book does drag at times. (“Phone Calls from Ex-Lovers,” for example, probably doesn’t need to list all top 100 songs from 1984. Surely 10 would have made the point.)

But the slow moments are overcome by the tenderness of “Steel Anniversary,” by the undeniable momentum of “The Naming Ceremony,” and by the sledgehammer truths that catch us off-guard, the laugh-out-loud surprises and the utter honesty with which Alexie delivers it all.

“What I’ve Stolen” creates a world that, to borrow a line from “Sonnet, with Tainted Love,” “is equal parts magic and loss,” and it’s a book worth savoring to the final line.

How to Write the Great American Indian Novel

September 9, 2013


Montana Public Radio





All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms.
Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food.

The hero must be a half-breed, half white and half Indian, preferably
from a horse culture. He should often weep alone. That is mandatory.

If the hero is an Indian woman, she is beautiful. She must be slender
and in love with a white man. But if she loves an Indian man

then he must be a half-breed, preferably from a horse culture.
If the Indian woman loves a white man, then he has to be so white

that we can see the blue veins running through his skin like rivers.
When the Indian woman steps out of her dress, the white man gasps

at the endless beauty of her brown skin. She should be compared to nature:
brown hills, mountains, fertile valleys, dewy grass, wind, and clear water.

If she is compared to murky water, however, then she must have a secret.
Indians always have secrets, which are carefully and slowly revealed.

Yet Indian secrets can be disclosed suddenly, like a storm.
Indian men, of course, are storms. The should destroy the lives

of any white women who choose to love them. All white women love
Indian men. That is always the case. White women feign disgust

at the savage in blue jeans and T-shirt, but secretly lust after him.
White women dream about half-breed Indian men from horse cultures.

Indian men are horses, smelling wild and gamey. When the Indian man
unbuttons his pants, the white woman should think of topsoil.

There must be one murder, one suicide, one attempted rape.
Alcohol should be consumed. Cars must be driven at high speeds.

Indians must see visions. White people can have the same visions
if they are in love with Indians. If a white person loves an Indian

then the white person is Indian by proximity. White people must carry
an Indian deep inside themselves. Those interior Indians are half-breed

and obviously from horse cultures. If the interior Indian is male
then he must be a warrior, especially if he is inside a white man.

If the interior Indian is female, then she must be a healer, especially if she is inside
a white woman. Sometimes there are complications.

An Indian man can be hidden inside a white woman. An Indian woman
can be hidden inside a white man. In these rare instances,

everybody is a half-breed struggling to learn more about his or her horse culture.
There must be redemption, of course, and sins must be forgiven.

For this, we need children. A white child and an Indian child, gender
not important, should express deep affection in a childlike way.

In the Great American Indian novel, when it is finally written,
all of the white people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts.


Sherman Alexie
Sherman Alexie

Read Sherman Alexie’s mini biography on the  IMDB site.

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The challenges of being lost inside your culture

Writer and Native American Sherman Alexie talks about the destructiveness of feeling “lost and insignificant inside the larger culture.”

The Challenges of Being Lost Inside Your Culture from on Vimeo.

As featured on Moyers & Company

April 9, 2013

In an extended clip from this weekend’s Moyers & Company, writer Sherman Alexie, who was born on a Native American reservation, talks to Bill about feeling “lost and insignificant inside the larger culture,” and how his culture’s “lack of power” is illustrated in stereotypical sports mascots.

“At least half the country thinks the mascot issue is insignificant. But I think it’s indicative of the ways in which Indians have no cultural power. We’re still placed in the past. So we’re either in the past or we’re only viewed through casinos,” Alexie tells Bill. “I know a lot more about being white than you know about being Indian.”