Sherman Alexie has had a hellacious couple of years. In the summer of 2015, his mother passed away. Their relationship was always contentious and complicated, and throughout that late summer and early fall, Alexie wrote dozens of poems while trying to work through his complicated grief. Last December, a doctor informed Alexie that he immediately needed surgery to remove a noncancerous brain tumor. The nine-hour procedure was wildly successful, but still terrifying as fuck the whole way through—afterward, Alexie was in the ICU for a day and in the hospital for a week before beginning a long recovery regimen at home.
This year has not been all bad. As soon as he was physically able to write, Alexie spent his post-surgery recovery period working on a memoir that incorporated that flurry of poems about his mother and new pieces about his troubled brain. And this fall, as he’s handed his upcoming memoir to his publisher, Alexie has been everywhere around town, working so much that it seems as though he’s making up for lost time: interviewing celebrity authors like Bryan Cranston and Mary-Louise Parker, doing events with writer friends like Jess Walter and Tim Egan, and promoting the work of young writers.
This year, Bumbershoot asked The Seattle Review of Books to present a reading program, so we thought we’d combine Alexie with two of the region’s best up-and-coming young writers: Bellingham poet and spoken-word performer Robert Lashley, author of The Homeboy Songs, and a poet named EJ Koh whose first book is to be published next year. The combination was so energetic it was practically radioactive: Lashley’s poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Motherfucker at the Club” had the room vibrating with laughter; Koh’s poem about the 2014 South Korean ferry disaster led many to weep openly; and Alexie read work from his upcoming book that crossed from comedy to tragedy and back again.
Every writer up against the end of the publication process has to relearn how to be a human. Alexie was at that point at the reading—still coming to grips with his world turning inside out. After the reading, he was euphoric; you could tell he’d remembered why he’d fallen in love with writing in the first place. It was his idea to present the same lineup at Elliott Bay Book Company to a wider audience. That reading happens this Friday at 7 p.m.; for those who couldn’t afford Bumbershoot tickets this year, it’s absolutely free.
Fans of Alexie’s writing will love Koh and Lashley—they share his bawdy sense of humor, his smart sense of play, and the scary raw emotion that make his readings so special. If you missed this event the first time around, you get another chance to make it right. Come help Alexie end this misbegotten year on a high note.
Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave., elliottbaybook.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m. Fri., Nov. 11.
Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.