Tuesday, April 20, 2010

HUM 221: Questions while we watch a speech today by Sherman Alexie

In class today we will watch a 53-minute talk by Sherman Alexie to a largely African-American audience at Rutgers University-Newark in 2001. His humor is over the top now and then, but he's got some thoughtful insights. At Rutgers-Newark he talked about everything from literature to sports mascots, the "commodification" of Native American art, the state of American society, what and why and how he writes ... and a lot else. One insight that's worth thinking about: Alexie says to some degree white Americans have lost our "tribal" past, which I take to mean our sense of family, our ethnic heritage, our sense of who we are as individuals in a mass consumer society. I'm not sure I agree 100 percent, but it's worth considering. If we have, do we share that loss with American Indians?

Today we'll have to begin watching it immediately in order to fit it all in, so I have made out some questions to help you focus on themes that will appear in "Smoke Signals" - and on the final exam.
1. What does Alexie say about his life as a writer (including movie screenplays)? Listen for him to say why he writes, what kinds of things he writes about (and why), how his own life experiences are reflected in his writing. What does he want his readers (or movie audiences) to experience? What's his message?

2. Alexie's mother was Spokane Indian, and his father was Coeur d-Alene. How is his Native American background reflected in his writing? In his views on society? Wpould you say he's a Native American writer or a writer who happens to be Native American?

3. How do you, as a white or black American, react to what he says? If you have Native heritage in your family, does that affect the way you feel about him? If not, does that affect the way you feel? How many of his themes -- or other things he talks about -- affect you as a reader or listener? In your opinion, is he talking about American Indians or human nature?
For Friday, don't forget to read the interview in Cinaste magazine that I assigned earlier. And we will begin watching the movie Friday.

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