Video: On Literary Heroes and Literary Works
From an Oct 27, 2009 interview with Sherman Alexie on Bigthink.com. To watch Alexie discuss the arc of his literary a career and what he thinks about the future of the book, please see the full interview at Big Think.
Whom would you most like to meet?
It's funny. This popped into my head, so I'll go with it: Shoeless Joe Jackson—who was banned from baseball in 1919 for allegedly fixing the World Series. A country boy, he ended up being a great baseball player, one of the greatest of all time. I'd like to talk to him about that World Series, about the mysteries of human nature. Because, looking at the stats, I'm pretty sure he didn't participate in the fix, but he knew about it, so I'd like to have a discussion of morality with Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Who are your literary heroes?
Alexie: Well, there are certain poems and novels and stories that resonate forever, poems I always return to—Emily Dickinson: "Because I could not stop for Death – / He kindly stopped for me"; Theodore Roethke: "I knew a woman, lovely in her bones, / When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them"; James Wright: "Suddenly I realize / That if I stepped out of my body, I would break / into blossom."
And then, you know, the end of Grapes of Wrath when Rose of Sharon's child has died but she breastfeeds the starving man, that moment. So it's always individual works. Even in life, I don't have heroes. I believe in heroic ideas, because the creators of all those ideas are very human. And if you make heroes out of people, you will invariably be disappointed.
Was there a particular work that moved you as a child?
Oh, Ezra Jack Keats's A Snowy Day, the book. The idea of multicultural literature is very new. As a little Indian boy growing up on the reservation, there was nobody like me in books, so you always had to extrapolate. But when I picked up A Snowy Day with that inner-city black kid, that child walking through the snow-covered, pretty, quiet, and lonely city, when he was making snow angels and when he was getting into snowball fights, and when he got home to his mother and it was cold and she put him in a hot bathtub and put him to sleep. The loneliness and the love in that book are just gorgeous. So that picture resonates with me still.