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Sherman J. Alexie, Jr., was born in October of 1966. His mother was Spokane Indian and his father was Coeur d'Alene Indian. Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. He was born hydrocephalic, which means with water on the brain, and received an operation at the age of 6 months. He was not expected to survive, but did, even though doctors predicted he would live with severe mental retardation. Surprisingly, though he suffered from severe side effects, he exhibited no symptoms of retardation and went on to learn to read by age three, and read Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath by age five. Alexie decided to attend high school off the reservation, in Reardan, Washington, where he knew he would get a better education. He was the only Indian at the school, and excelled academically as well as in sports, becoming a star player on the basketball team. After high school, Alexie attended Gonzaga University in Spokane on scholarship in 1985. After two years at Gonzaga, he transferred to Washington State University. Alexie had dreams of being a doctor but discovered he needed a different career path after fainting three times in anatomy class. Taking a poetry workshop at WSU, Alexie found he excelled at writing and, encouraged by poetry teacher Alex Kuo, realized he'd found his new career. After graduating in American Studies from WSU, Alexie received the Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship in 1991 and the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship in 1992. A year after he left WSU, two of his poetry collections, The Business of Fancydancing and I Would Steal Horses, were published. His first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, was published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1993. For this collection he received a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction, and was awarded a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award. Alexie was then named one of Granta's Best of Young American Novelists and won the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award and the Murray Morgan Prize for his first novel, Reservation Blues, published in 1995. His second novel, Indian Killer, published in 1996, was named one of People's Best of Pages and a New York Times Notable Book. Alexie had become friends with musician Jim Boyd, a Colville Indian, and the two decided to collaborate on the album Reservation Blues, which contains the songs from the book of the same name. In 1996 Boyd and Alexie opened for the Indigo Girls at a concert to benefit the Honor the Earth Campaign. In 1997, Alexie embarked on another collaboration with Chris Eyre, a Cheyenne/Arapaho Indian. They agreed to collaborate on a film project inspired by Alexie's work, This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona, from the short story collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Smoke Signals debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1998, winning two awards: the Audience Award and the Filmmakers Trophy. In 1999 the film received a Christopher Award, presented to the creators of artistic works "which affirm the highest values of the human spirit." Alexie was also nominated for the Independent Feature Project/West 1999 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay. Alexie competed in his first World Heavyweight Poetry Bout competition in June 1998, organized by the World Poetry Bout Association (WPBA) in Taos, New Mexico. He won, and then went on to win the title again over the next three years, becoming the first and only poet to hold the title for four consecutive years. Alexie also made his stand-up comedy debut at the Foolproof Northwest Comedy Festival in Seattle, WA, in April 1999, Also in 1998, Alexie participated with seven others in the PBS Lehrer News Hour, Dialogue on Race with President Clinton. Alexie has also been featured on Politically Incorrect , 60 Minutes II, and NOW with Bill Moyers. In February 2003, Alexie participated in the Museum of Tolerance project, "Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves," an exhibit showcasing the diversity within the personal histories of several noted Americans. He was the guest editor for the Winter 2000-01 issue of Ploughshares, a prestigious literary journal. He was a 1999 O. Henry Award Prize juror, was one of the judges for the 2000 inagural PEN/Amazon.com Short Story Award, and a juror for both the Poetry Society of America's 2001 Shelley Memorial Award and the Poets and Writers "Writers Exchange 2001" Contest. He currently serves as a mentor in the PEN Emerging Writers program. Alexie was also a member of the 2000 and 2001 Independent Spirit Awards Nominating Committees, and has seved as a creative advisor to the Sundance Institute Writers Fellowship Program and the Independent Feature Films West Screenwriters Lab. In October 2003 he received Washington State University's highest honor for alumni, the Regents' Distinguished Alumnus Award. Alexie's work was selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories 2004,and his short story "What You Pawn I Will Redeem" was selected by juror Ann Patchett as her favorite story for the The O. Henry Prize Stories 2005. Alexie has published 16 books including his collection of short stories, Ten Little Indians.
Don Lee lives in Boston, where he is the editor of the literary journal Ploughshares.