March 14, 2008
CLARK COLLEGE: COMMENCEMENT 2008
Award-winning novelist, poet, screenwriter, composer and performer Sherman Alexie will be the keynote speaker at the college’s commencement ceremony on June 19.
VANCOUVER, Wash. – Award-winning novelist, poet, screenwriter, composer and performer Sherman Alexie will be the keynote speaker at Clark College’s 2008 commencement ceremony. The ceremony will be held at 7 p.m. at the Clark County Amphitheater on Thursday, June 19, 2008.
Clark College is the third largest community and technical college in Washington State. During the 2007-2008 academic year, between 900 and 1,000 Clark College students are expected to graduate with associate degrees and certificates.
Clark College President Robert K. Knight noted, “While people may not immediately recognize Sherman Alexie’s name, they may have seen ‘Smoke Signals,’ the moving film about his life. Sherman Alexie has survived countless obstacles in his education, career and life. His success in overcoming challenges will certainly resonate with our students. He will also bring humor and joy, making it a memorable evening for everyone.”
About Sherman Alexie
A Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, he grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, WA.
According to his official bio, “Born hydrocephalic, which means with water on the brain, Alexie underwent a brain operation at the age of 6 months and was not expected to survive. When he did beat the odds, doctors predicted he would live with severe mental retardation. Though he showed no signs of this, he suffered severe side effects, such as seizures and uncontrollable bed-wetting, throughout his childhood. In spite of all he had to overcome, Alexie learned to read by age three, and devoured novels, such as John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, by age five.”
Alexie attended Gonzaga University for two years then transferred to Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman. Alexie planned to be a doctor and enrolled in pre-med courses at WSU but changed his career path after taking part in a poetry workshop at WSU.
Shortly after graduating from WSU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies, Alexie received the Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship in 1991 and the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship in 1992.
He continued to write prolifically and his first collection of short stories, “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” was published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1993. For this collection he received a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction, and was awarded a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award. Alexie was named one of Granta's Best of Young American Novelists and won the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award and the Murray Morgan Prize for his first novel, “Reservation Blues,” published in 1995 by Atlantic Monthly Press.
In 1997, Alexie embarked on another artistic collaboration. Chris Eyre, a Cheyenne/Arapaho Indian, discovered Alexie's writing while doing graduate work at New York University's film school. Through a mutual friend, they agreed to collaborate on a film project inspired by Alexie's work.
The basis for the screenplay was "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," a short story from The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Shadow Catcher Entertainment produced the film. Released as “Smoke Signals” at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1998, the movie won two awards: the Audience Award and the Filmmakers Trophy.
After success at Sundance, Smoke Signals found a distributor, Miramax Films, and was released in New York and Los Angeles on June 26 and across the country on July 3, 1998. In 1999 the film received a Christopher Award, an award presented to the creators of artistic works "which affirm the highest values of the human spirit."
In 2004, 2006 and 2008 he was an Artist in Residence at the University of Washington, teaching courses in American Ethnic Studies. He holds honorary degrees from Seattle University (doctor of humanities, honoris causa - 2000) and Columbia College, Chicago (1999).
His most recent honor is receiving the 2007 National Book Award in Young People's Literature for his young adult novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”
Alexie's most recent publications are “Flight,” released in April 2007 by Grove/Atlantic and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” his first young adult novel, published in September 2007 by Little, Brown.