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ENG256: American Literature Post Civil War to Present (Geary): Reservation Blues

About Reservation Blues

"Sherman Alexie published Reservation Blues (1995), his first novel, after appearing on the literary scene to much acclaim several years earlier. He had published half a dozen books of verse and short fiction, including The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, about life on Washington State's Spokane reservation, where Alexie was born and raised. He then signed a deal to write a novel on the strength of a single-sentence description of "an all-Indian Catholic rock-and-roll band," as noted in an interview with Tomson Highway, quoted by Daniel Grassian in Understanding Sherman Alexie. But after the pitch, Alexie changed his focus: the novel features characters from his earlier stories, forming Coyote Springs, a blues band rather than a rock-and-roll group. While the religious circumstances and conversations give Reservation Blues greater moral and philosophical weight, the novel's most singular aspect may be the fusion of cultures signified in the title, with the musical histories of Native Americans and African Americans presented as intertwined.

Although some critics--such as Gloria Bird, a fellow Spokane Indian--have questioned Alexie's presentation of Indians who seem stereotypical, such as in their apathy or drunkenness, most have effusively praised Alexie's first work of long fiction. Reservation Blues is widely taught and highly regarded in high schools and colleges, attesting to the extent to which Alexie has succeeded in communicating an essential version--even if not a definitive one--of life on a reservation in the modern United States."

Excerpt from Novels for Students (Vol. 31).

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Sherman Alexie


"An enrolled Spokane-Coeur D'Alene Indian, Sherman Joseph Alexie Jr. was born on 7 October 1966 to Sherman Joseph and Lillian Agnes Cox Alexie in Spokane, Washington. His father suffered from alcoholism and was often absent from the family, which lived on the reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, some fifty miles northwest of Spokane. His mother made and sold quilts and worked at the trading post in Wellpinit to support the couple's five children."

Except from Twentieth-Century American Western Writers: First Series (1999), by Ron McFarland.

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