Skip to main content

EK: Would you speak to what you see as our responsibility is as Native Writers? Do you see that responsibility restricting/constricting certain avenues of creativity?

SA: We do have a cultural responsibility above and beyond what other people do, more than other ethnic group, simply because we are so misrepresented and misunderstood and appropriated. We have a serious responsibility to tell the truth. And to act as . . . role models. We are more than just writers. We are storytellers. We are spokespeople, We are cultural ambassadors. We are politicians. We are activists. We are all of these simply by nature of what we do, without even wanting to be. So we’re not like these other writers who can just pick up and choose their expressions. They’ve chosen for us , and we have to be aware of that. I also think that we have a responsibility to live up to our words. As Native writers, we certainly talk the talk about the things that everybody should do, but if you’re going to write about racism, I don’t think you should be a racist.

If you’re going to write about sexism and exploitation, then I don’t think you should be a sleeping around. If you’re going to write about violence and colonialism, then I don’t think you should be doing it to your own family. So, I think we have a serious responsibility as Native writers to live traditionally in a contemporary world. And I don’t think that a lot of us do.

EK: What do you think prevents us from doing that?

SA: A lot of it is our own dysfunctions. While we may have more responsibilities because of what we do, that does not automatically make us healthy. Part of the danger in being an artist of whatever color is that you fall in love with your wrinkles. The danger is that if you fall in love with your wrinkles then you don’t want to get rid of them. You start to glorify them and perpetuate them. If you write about pain, you can end up searching for more pain to write about, that kind of thing; that self-destructive route. We need to get away from that. We can write about pain and anger without having it consume us, and we have to learn how to do that in our lives as individuals before we can start doing that as writers.


From E. K. Caldwell, "Interview: Sherman Alexie."