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Winter 2012 Launch Event: Second Night

By Joseph Kozal, Prairie Schooner intern

This past Tuesday, Prairie Schooner concluded the two-day celebration of its winter issue with the highly anticipated visit from author Sherman Alexie, who also edited a portfolio of Native American writers for the issue. A great turnout had eager attendees lined up to the door of the Mary Ripema Ross Media Arts center a half hour before the event was scheduled to start. The audience packed the 250-seat theatre in which Alexie spoke and spilled over into a second theatre where the event was simulcast.

Alexie began by commenting on the Nebraska oddity of eating steak with a side of pork sausage, offering shout-outs to some of his Twitter followers in attendance, and leading the crowd in a singalong of Rick Springfield’s 1981 classic “Jesse’s Girl,” before reading a poem of his own about mixtapes. He continued to entertain the crowd by sharing a variety of his poetry, short fiction written on his iPad, and pieces he selected for the journal. Throughout the event, Alexie displayed his signature sense of humor in both his work and a number of equally hilarious personal asides in which he takes particular pride. “Tangents are highly sacred among my tribe,” Alexie quipped.

After the reading, Alexie sat down with Prairie Schooner Editor-in-Chief, Kwame Dawes, for a Q&A session to discuss the winter issue, writing, and Alexie’s unique ability, as Dawes put it, to remind us of “the absurdity that is the tragedy of life.” Alexie has faced some controversy over his writing, particularly regarding his humor about the stereotypes faced by American Indians, about which he said, “I see no color, class, or race when it comes to human absurdity and our unique ability to lie to ourselves.”

When discussing the most recent issue of Prairie Schooner, Alexie emphasized his first choice in selecting pieces was making sure he did not pick any of his own work as so many others do when they are named a “guest editor.” Instead, he chose the work of Native writers whom he found to embody the outward viewpoint and “confident exploration,” as he writes in the issue’s introduction, of post-colonial Indians.

The event was billed as a celebration, and it was a brilliant one. An evening in celebration of a new issue of Prairie Schooner, humor, the modern Native American experience, and humanity. In one of Alexie’s stories titled “Humanism,” which he wrote on the plane ride to Nebraska and shared with the crowd, the narrator is a man searching for some basic human connection before a plane crash. He says, “I need to be unlonely.” A feeling of unloneliness is perhaps the best gift Alexie’s writing, and all literature, can offer, and on Tuesday night, hundreds were unlonely together.

The Winter 2012 issue of Prairie Schooner is now available for purchase, and as Dawes said in Tuesday night’s introduction of Alexie, “A subscription to the journal is healthy, like broccoli.”