Sherman J. Alexie Jr.

Sherman Alexie is 33rd Recipient of WSU’s Highest Alumnus/a Award

Award-winning poet, author, screenwriter and film director Sherman Alexie received Washington State University’s highest honor for WSU alumni on October 10, 2003.

Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, about 50 miles northwest of Spokane. He received his B.A. in American studies from WSU in Pullman in 1994. Two of his poetry collections – The Business of Fancydancing and I Would Steal Horses – were published just one year after he graduated from WSU.

His poetry books include One Stick Song (2000), The Man Who Loves Salmon (1998), The Summer of Black Widows (1996), Water Flowing Home (1995), Old Shirts & New Skins (1993), First Indian on the Moon (1993), I Would Steal Horses (1992), and The Business of Fancydancing (1992).

He is also the author of several novels and collections of short fiction including his latest, Ten Little Indians (2003); The Toughest Indian in the World (2000); Indian Killer (1996); Reservation Blues (1994), which won the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award; and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993), which received a Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and is now required reading on many college campuses.

In 1999, The New Yorker named Alexie as one of the top writers for the new millennium, listing him among “20 Writers for the 21st Century” in its Summer Fiction Edition. Alexie’s other honors include poetry fellowships from the Washington State Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award and Sundance Film Festival awards.

Known as a poet and writer, Alexie made his debut as a screen writer with the script for the movie Smoke Signals based on a story from his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in HeavenSmoke Signals was honored with two awards at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. The Business of Fancydancing, which is now available on DVD, marks Alexie’s directorial debut. The Business of Fancydancing won awards last year at several Film Festivals including Victoria, San Francisco and Durango.

Established in 1962, the Regents’ Distinguished Alumnus/a Award is for alumni “who shall have made a truly distinguished contribution to society, or who, through personal achievement, shall have brought distinction to Washington State University.”

Alexie was nominated for the award by the College of Liberal Arts, and nominators included professor and poet Alex Kuo, Alexie’s friend and mentor during his student years at WSU. In nominating Alexie, faculty members detailed not only his achievements, honors and awards, but also the importance of his Native American voice to a broad audience.

Alexie is the 33rd recipient of WSU’s top award for its alumni.

Previous winners include broadcaster Edward R. Murrow; Philip Abelson, “Father of the Atomic Submarine,” and his wife, Dr. Neva Martin Abelson, a physician who helped develop the Rh blood factor test; nationally-known sociologists William Julius Wilson and James E. Blackwell; and Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.