Prominent voices within the literary community are raising the alarm against Indigenous American author Sherman Alexie, whose semi-autobiographical novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2007. Alexie is facing whisper network allegations that he has sexually harassed multiple Native women.
Debbie Reese, a member of the Nambé Pueblo Indian Reservation in New Mexico and former professor of American Indian Studies at University of Illinois announced on her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, that she has begun removing Alexie from the blog’s gallery and 11 years of posts in response to the allegations.
“Based on private conversations I have had, I can no longer let his work sit on AICL without noting that he has hurt other Native writers in overt and subtle ways, including abuse, threats, and humiliation,” wrote Reese. “I’ve been studying and writing about children’s and young adult books about Native people since the 1990s. There’s been so little growth in all those years. Learning of his actions tells me that rather than helping grow the numbers of Native writers who get published, he’s undermined that growth.”
Earlier in February, at least five anonymous commenters alleged sexual misconduct against Alexie in the comments of a School Library Journal article about sexual harassment in children’s publishing. While the article didn’t name Alexie, in the Pacific Standard, writer David Perry linked to the article and wrote that Alexie “has been accused of sexual abuse by at least five women.”
Upon hearing numerous sexual harassment and abuse allegations against him, writer Litsa Dremousis, a longtime friend of Alexie’s, has publicly broken ties with the author. She took to Twitter to raise awareness of the alleged abuse and has been directing survivors to reach out to reporters at NPR investigating the alleged misconduct. According to Dremousis, a majority of the survivors are themselves Native women writers who saw Alexie as a mentor or colleague within a small and marginalized community.
“Dozens of women have now contacted me or my colleagues re Sherman Alexie sexually harassing them, making unwanted advances, cornering them in rooms, &/or explicitly threatening to end their literary careers if they told anyone,” Dremousis wrote on Twitter. She continued:
In the meantime, Reese and Dremousis are encouraging readers to discover the wealth and depth of the many Native writers who haven’t allegedly undermined the work and careers of indigenous women.
Update, 5:53 pm: We have reached out to Sherman Alexie for comment and will include his response if we hear back.
Update 3/1, 4:50 pm: Alexie responded via a statement to the Seattle Times, in which he issued a vague apology, writing, “Over the years, I have done things that have harmed other people, including those I most deeply love. To those I have hurt, I genuinely apologize. I am sorry.” However, he said that he denied the accounts shared by Dremousis, characterizing them as “outright falsehoods.”