Sherman Alexie Speaks at C.S.U.

I wrote this post last week for Colorado State University’s new MFA blog.

The Colorado State University diversity symposium this fall began their week with keynote speaker (and author, poet, screenwriter, producer, and performer) Sherman Alexie. I was informed by the diversity symposium’s website, that “Alexie uses irony throughout his work in an attempt to dispel myths about the conditions of Native Americans living on reservations…” and that he would be bringing “his unique humor” to CSU that night. I thought, yes, I have read some of Sherman Alexie’s novels, stories, and poems, and yes, he is very funny. How I am looking forward to seeing him speak. But I was not expecting the two hours of straight stand-up comedy to which Alexie treated his audience that night. Bring his unique sense of humor? Boy, did he ever.

As with all good humor, his comedy was serious—seriously funny, and at the same time, earnest as hell. Between stories about growing up on a Spokane reservation and telling us the myth of the man who kept putting his penis in everything, Alexie said to students “Some people might complain that because people laughed this wasn’t serious. But it’s exactly the opposite.” What Alexie gave us was a belly-laugh-aching social critique that addressed the core wounds one might expect a keynote speaker to address in something called a “diversity symposium”, in the most unexpected ways. He never shied away from the controversial. He asked us to face stereotypes about Native Americans (and their storytelling wisdom, among many common assumptions), to look at poverty in all of its grotesque detail, and to question the rhetoric of victimhood and oppression that so often finds a place in events such as that symposium.

And although some of the more controversial statements were launched right after a joke, so that the audience was caught unawares in the midst of our own laughter, in other moments he made a point to screw with us. During a lecture full of digressions, he asserted, “The tangential can be sacred—write that down!” only to continue with a metanarrative satirizing his own authority. “What a wise thing to say. Was he serious, or was he just covering up because he forgot where he was? Or was that part of his storytelling routine…?” There was never a moment the audience was not enthralled by his particular brand of storytelling, an eccentric blend of narratives that eventually led us back to the same urgent questions about the politics of identity.

In the end, addressing yet another serious topic, the idea of doubleness and the negative connotations of the “difficulty of living in two worlds” that is so often applied to minorities, Alexie reminded us that nobody live in just two worlds—in his words, “there are hundreds”. We get too wrapped up in one identity, he says, and the trick is to “surround your adversaries with your identities.” A lesson that he taught by example, because surrounding us with the force of his many wonderful identities was exactly what Alexie did that night.

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New Projects

I asked the universe (Google) for images of women’s magazines and the universe offered me this:

[Source]

I asked for images of women’s magazines because I wanted some photographic evidence or cartoon that would be like THIS IS A BLOG POST ABOUT HOW I AM NOW EDITING A MAGAZINE FOR WOMEN WRITERS, and because I outsourced my imagination to Google years ago. This is not the magazine I work for. It is a parody of the kind of magazine I could never work for, and since my grandmother reads my blog, a risky choice. But: “Lose 30 pounds fast! Chop off your leg!”? C’mon; that’s funny. Feminist fun activity: Paste this cover onto a stack of other magazines and secretly place them in the cashier’s aisle of the grocery store. See how long it takes anyone to notice.

I should have known that this was the kind of women’s magazine that Google would present me with. At any rate I was happy to find this sassy little critique of a photo wedged in between real covers of Cosmo and Women’s Health. But the point of this post was supposed to be that I am now on the editorial board of another kind of women’s magazine: the smart kind that celebrates women by supporting their endeavors. The kind that I wish showed up in Google searches for women’s magazines. The kind that might consider publishing found poetry from the words in this fake magazine. Our little literary zine is called Broad!, as in “having an ample distance from side to side; covering a large number or wide scope of subjects or areas; very noticeable and strong; a woman”! We publish gentleladies, otherwise known as female-bodied and female-identified people. We do this because the writing of women is not published nearly as much as the writing of men. If you didn’t know this you can start reading about it here.

This is the very classy cover of our latest issue:

Don’t worry. All of the sex and weight loss tips are on the inside.

The best part is it’s all online in free PDF downloads, so you can read our first two issues now! The other best part is that we’re accepting submissions for our next issue until October 13, 2012!

Starting next week, I will be blogging for Broad! twice a month about issues relevant to feminism and literature, along with editor Heather Lefebvre and my colleagues on the editorial board, T.R. Benedict and Hannah Baker-Siroty. We have things to say. So bookmark the Broad! blog, read the first two issues, and email us submissions, stat, broads. You will not be sorry.

May Day

April has been work, writing, and one trip to Durango, Colorado where the stars were uninhibited by other kinds of light and the rest of the universe felt closer. Blogging has not happened, so this post on the last day of the month will be about May. Tomorrow, May 1, is Beltane, May Day, a celebration of spring and new beginnings. It is also a day of general strike: no work, no shopping, occupy everywhere.

My work is teaching and discussing books and writing; to me, in a world increasingly skeptical of art and intellectualism, this counts as an occupation. I will not shop. Part of me wants to go to Naropa and travel with Bhanu Kapil’s wolf pack tomorrow. But no. There is not time to explain to all of my students that they should want to do this. Instead, I will ask them difficult questions about movements and perhaps they will explain something new to me.

These wolves are occupying.

My neighbor has just returned from a wolf conference in the midwest, where he learned about wolf history and repopulation efforts. He works at the wolf sanctuary in Bellvue, Colorado. A and I are somewhat jealous of this. There may be connections arising between May and protesting and wolves, but I will leave them here for now.

More on May Day from the New York Times.