Biography of Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie is an award-winning author, poet, and filmmaker. His work primarily focuses on contemporary Native American identity.

Alexie was born on October 7, 1966 on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington, to Sherman Joseph Alexie and Lillian Agnes Cox. He is of Coeur d’Alene, Colville, Flathead, Spokane, and Caucasian descent. Alexie has spoken about how deeply his father's alcoholism affected him, and his work often explores the effects of alcoholism on the reservation. After seeing the way addiction robbed many of his friends and family members of their aspirations, Alexie made the choice to avoid alcohol. 

In his early life, Alexie suffered from poor health. He was born with Hydrocephalus (colloquially referred to as “water on the brain”), a serious medical condition in which fluid accumulates in the brain cavities and can result in abnormal enlargement of the head, possible mental disability, or even death. Alexie underwent a successful surgery when he was six months old that saved him from the more serious symptoms of his condition, but his classmates frequently mocked him for his enlarged head. Furthermore, he suffered from seizures and had to refrain from participating in physical activities on the reservation, which alienated him from other boys his age. 

Despite his physical difficulties, Sherman Alexie excelled academically and eventually enrolled in a public high school outside the reservation. His success in the classroom and on the basketball court earned him a scholarship to Gonzaga University in 1985, where he planned to study medicine and law. Two years later, Alexie discovered that he was unhappy with his chosen fields and transferred to Washington State University. Unsure of his career path, Alexie attended literature classes at his new university and found his life’s calling under the tutelage of Professor Alex Kuo, a noted poet and author who served as Alexie’s literary mentor.

Kuo inspired Sherman Alexie to begin writing. His first published work, The Business of Fancydancing: Stories and Poems, came out in 1992. In 2002, it was adapted into a film that Alexie wrote and directed; it received mixed reviews. Alexie's first prose novel, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, was published in 1993 and received the PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction.  Reservation Blues, the sequel to Lone Ranger, came out in 1995 and won the 1996 American Book Award. Alexie's screenplay for the acclaimed independent film Smoke Signals (1998) is based in part on The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. 

In 2007, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Alexie's semi-autobiographical novel, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Alexie’s other novels for young adults include Indian Killer, published in 1996, and Flight, published in 2007. In addition, he has written several other short story and poetry collections, including War Dances, which won the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. In 2010, Sherman Alexie won the Native Writers Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award.

He currently lives in Seattle with his family.

Study Guides on Works by Sherman Alexie

Flight was written by Sherman Alexie and published in 2007 by Black Cat, an imprint of Grove Press. A magical realist novel, it tells the story of a troubled Native American teen who has reached his breaking point after years of abuse at the hands...