By Lauren Baker
FRESNO– “If the people who try to ban books knew what it actually does for sales, they would never do it.” Sherman Alexie said. “I have sold millions of copies based on repression.”
Alexie noted his book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is “in the top ten list of banned books” in his discussion of censorship at Fresno State on April 7th in the Satellite Student Union.
Sherman Alexie is a renowned poet, filmmaker, and author of several critically-acclaimed books such as Smoke Signals, Reservation Blues, and War Dances. His work focuses on his experiences growing up in Spokane, Washington, on an Indian Reservation, where he struggled with his racial identify and the difficulties of entering adolescence. Alexie also produced The Lone Ranger and has published a few collections of poems.
The event featured the author’s special brand of humor and relatability as he shared stories about the experiences he often has written about with the audience, such as his first crush and the trials and tribulations that comes with new love, heartbreak, and self-worth. He joked about the awkwardness of talking to his crush, laughed at how he went about it, and cried remembering the moment she first complimented him. “It was the first time anyone had touched me, in a loving way.”
Alexie mused over society’s tendency to gravitate towards what is deemed to be “dangerous.” He said, “it’s really hilarious to me that people will go to such lengths to get certain books banned, only to get the opposite response in terms of sales.”
Alexie has twice been the second ranked book on the Top 10 List of Banned Literature, much to his dismay, being second at one point to the popular children’s book “Captain Underpants”. “How frigid do you have to be to be sexually threatened by that?” Alexie laughed. Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, was the number one banned children’s book for 2014, according to the American Library Association, for reasons including cultural insensitivity, drugs and alcohol, gambling, offensive language, and sex education.
“I had no idea when I wrote my book that it would get banned like this,” Alexie said. “A woman in Georgia went on a local television show and said my book contained oral sex lessons. A woman in South Carolina told a local newspaper that the two main characters go around grabbing women’s breasts. Nobody has sex in the book. Masturbation is only metaphorically referenced. There is no actual sexual acts involved, in fact, the book is pretty tame. So what you have is people talking about the book that haven’t actually read it or people that have read it and decided to lie. And journalists have let them lie, because they haven’t taken the time to read the book and check the facts themselves.”
This situation Alexie finds himself in isn’t an easy one despite his success. The accusations of corrupt or explicit content in his books end up on search engines for anyone to see, in false book reviews made by individuals trying to ban it.
One audience member asked, “what can we do for young people to get them motivated to be self-aware and seek answers for themselves?”
Alexie answered: “Books. Books. Books. Books. The quality of your life is in direct correlation to how many books you read. They teach us about politics, religion, and the like. Books that can teach us, teach us how to think differently–those are the outlets that get banned, and that’s why are kids get left behind. This is all just another way of saying ‘encourage your kids to go to college.’ You’re debilitating them if you let them think it’s only for privileged white kids–it’s not. Books. Books. Books. It starts with books, they can lead you anywhere.”