Sherman Alexie speaks at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, on April 22, 2016, during an event hosted by the ASU RED INK Indigenous Initiative for All: Collaboration and Creativity at Work. Photo: ASU Department of English

Sherman Alexie a role model no more as Native group pulls award

Support offered for people 'harmed' by prominent author

American Indian Library Association rescinds 2008 award
By Kevin Abourezk

A Native American association has rescinded an award it gave to Sherman Alexie in 2008 for his book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, citing sexual harassment claims against the prominent Native author.

In an email to her group’s membership this week, Naomi Bishop – president of the American Indian Library Association – said her organization’s executive board decided last week to retract the Best Young Adult Book award given to Alexie.

“The Youth Literature Awards Committee and the Executive Board write to express full support for the people harmed by Sherman Alexie,” Bishop said. “We believe and commend the writers who have spoken up and extend our heartfelt compassion to those who have chosen to remain silent.”

The AILA Youth Literature Awards were established in 2006 to honor Native authors and illustrators and represent “the very best for our kids and communities,” Bishop said.

“We believe that writers are members of our communities who we can look to as role models for our youth,” she said. “We cannot, therefore, recommend Mr. Alexie’s books.”

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Allegations against Alexie began appearing in January, starting with anonymous comments made on a story about sexual harassment in children’s publishing on the School Library Journal’s website.

Within weeks, other allegations – including those of Seattle freelance writer Litsa Dremousis – culminated with a statement being released by Alexie in which he admitted to having treated some women badly but also criticized Dremousis for leading the public attacks against him.

A March 5 story by National Public Radio presented the first public allegations of harassment against Alexie. The story quoted three of 10 women who were interviewed by NPR about their encounters with Alexie.

The women described a pattern of behavior by the married author that ranged from inappropriate comments to “flirting that veered suddenly into sexual territory, unwanted sexual advances and consensual sexual relations that ended abruptly,” according to NPR.

Bishop said she hopes AILA’s decision to rescind Alexie’s award sends an “unequivocal message that his actions are unacceptable.”

She suggested those wanting to read Native authors who are positive role models could read #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women, an anthology of poems, essays, interviews and art by Native and First Nations women. AILA selected the anthology as its 2018 Best Young Adult Book.

“The youth we serve today are here because their ancestors fought for their future and the well-being of their nations,” Bishop said. “It is in that spirit with which we write to you today.”

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