Sherman’s march

bucksbucks I went to hear author Sherman Alexie Wednesday night at the Academy of Natural Sciences. This was one of the evening lectures that went with the “Cocktails with Lewis and Clark” programming to coincide with their bicentennial exhibit about the explorers’ 1804-1806 trip across America. (image is Bucks County coffee served nicely in front of a scene with a big buck. Serendipity or no? You be the judge.)

Before the lecture, folks milled around outside the auditorium where food tables and a bar were set up. Whoever placed the Colonially-garbed Mark Carroll three-piece band in front of the rams knew what they were doing. The lovely animals in the mountain top scene appear to be pausing for a bit of musical interlude before they look for more grass to eat. Loved the band’s costumes and their music, which felt colonial to me but the pr said was 19th century. (I suppose that could be colonial, couldn’t it?)


I saw the L&C exhibit in a flash in the few minutes I had before the talk. It’s comprehensive and nicely laid out in a geographical pathway (starting in Philadelphia where Lewis came to study botany and learn about scientific instruments and measurements at the American Philosophical Society, and ending on the west coast.) (image is a buffalo robe from 1835. It’s like the one L&C gave to Jefferson. That one was lost. The robe, which is read from right to left tells of the war exploits of a tribe –sorry my hasty notes don’t say which tribe.)

Alexie, (below right) known for his novels, poetry and the film “Smoke Signals” (highly recommended), is a fantastic aerobic speaker. He gave a 90-minute talk that included all kinds of pacing back and forth across the stage and probably logged a mile and lost some weight with all the hot lights and marching. My estimate of the audience was 400. Carolyn Belardo of the Academy told me that it was the biggest audience yet for their evening lecture series. (The night was co-produced by the Galleries at Moore, which hosted the post-lecture reception and book signing.)


Alexie’s talk was a cross between a Spaulding Grey monolog only much angrier and full of lefty politics and a stand-up routine. Much personal information in funny anecdotes about being a fish out of water coupled with some barbed comments about being raised on the res.

He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation (Alexie has no problem with the word Indian, by the way). And said that in the 20th century, 20 Spokane residents graduated from college. Two got masters degrees and one got a Ph.D. Born hydrocephalic, he had seizures until age 7 and had a series of brain operations. As a kid he couldn’t do the normal stuff and took up reading. He still has petit mal seizures. “Those are easy,” he said, lifting his head up and letting it fall limp on his left shoulder. “It looks like you’re writing.”


People always ask him about the alcoholism among Indians. He said “In my family there are only two that don’t drink — my sister and me….I’m a drunk. I’ve just been sober for 13 years.”

He talked about Indian men and their machismo issues which play out especially at war time. There were 5,000 Indians fighting in World War One “and we weren’t even citizens then,” he said. In Vietnam, 87,000 Indians fought and 97 percent of those were volunteers.

…I’m going to post this now and come back and give more about Alexie’s talk this weekend. Meanwhile here’s the link to his website and a nice Q&A with him about Smoke Signals.