Sherman Alexie, a renowned author, kicked off the conference “Outlawed: The Naked Truth about Censored Literature for Young People” speaking at Fresno State about his banned books and life growing up on an Indian reservation.
“He’s an amazing author, poet and screenwriter, and he is humorous, and he’s so funny, but he also has a depth — a vision and talks about such interesting topics especially related to his life growing up on the reservation,” said Julie Moore, librarian in the Technical Services department and co-chair of the Henry Madden Library diversity committee.
The conference invited seven features authors and experts as well as 35 panelists from across the nation and abroad, said Jennifer Crow, the curator of the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, which hosted the event.
“The aim of the conference is to examine the many aspects of censorship, and how it ultimately affects the reading choices of our young people,” Crow said.
Alexie grew up on an Indian reservation until his 8th grade year. By the start of his highs school career he had moved to a largely homogenous institute where the only other Indian was the mascot, he said.
In 2007 Alexie published the book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” which landed at the top ten list of banned books that year.
“I didn’t write the book thinking it would be banned like this,” Alexie said. “I’ve had my books challenged in the past, once every three or four years there would be a minor incident, but I had no idea this was going to happen. I couldn’t have predicted it.”
His teen-intended book was challenged and banned due to its raw sexual nature.
“What’s really wrong about it is the idea that they think that teens don’t already know this stuff,” said Cynthia Guardado, master of fine arts and creative writing alumna. “They are on the Internet and social media and watching news videos where people beat each other up. How is a book that shows these true realities worse?”
Alexie told stories of a woman in South Carolina that told a local newspaper that two of the main characters spent the entire book groping women’s breast. Another lady in Georgia went on local television and said the book contained blow job lessons, he said.
“And the fact is in the book nobody actually masturbates; nobody has sex,” Alexie said. “And masturbation is referenced two times and in reality once. There no description of any sexual act whatsoever. The book is actually tame.”
Nancy Hernandez, a master of fine arts and creative writing alumnus, describes Alexie as a truth teller.
“It’s relatable to issues today. It’s not something that is just specific to what would have been 10 or 20 years ago,” Hernandez said. “It’s very raw and real. It’s not sugar coated in any way.”
Alexie said, “What it really comes down to is people being really f—— condescending to teenagers.”