Sherman Alexie published a letter to his fans on Facebook in mid-July. It was about his book tour for his memoir about his mother’s death, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Alexie was being haunted by his mother, Lillian. He interpreted these repeated visits—in the form of coincidences, visions, and emotional distress—as a sign. “I am supposed to stop this book tour … I am canceling all of my events in August and I will be canceling many, but not all, of my events for the rest of the year,” Alexie wrote.
“Dear readers and booksellers and friends and family, I am sorry to disappoint you. I am sorry that I will not be traveling to your cities to tell you my stories in person,” he continued. He was clearly a man deep in the process of grieving, and he puts so much into his readings that he was tearing his soul open every night he took to the stage. But he wasn’t about to become a Salingeresque recluse. “My memoir is still out there for you to read,” he wrote. “And, when I am strong enough, I will return to the road. I will return to the memoir. And I know I will have new stories to tell about my mother and her ghost. I will have more stories to tell about grief. And about forgiveness.”
But if you know Alexie’s story at all, you know that he loves two things more than almost anything else: his home and his audience. While reading from Love was too much for him to bear, anyone who has seen Alexie read knows that he draws strength and inspiration from being onstage, from interacting with an audience. And anyone who has seen him read in Seattle knows that he draws a special power from a hometown crowd.
So on Tuesday, Alexie is returning to the stage for a special reading—not of his memoir, but for the 10th anniversary of his blockbuster young-adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. He was already a famous author by the time it was published, but the book broke him into the mainstream in a way usually reserved only for rock stars and Kardashians. Part-Time, which talks frankly about masturbation and other sexual topics, has been banned repeatedly from school libraries by fussy Christian parents, which has only inspired more sales and made Alexie even more famous.
So for one night, Alexie is going to get back onstage where he belongs and he’s going to soak up his hometown audience’s affections, which is exactly as it should be. It’s more important than ever to go and be a part of the Alexie experience, to show him how much Seattle loves him. This time around, Alexie needs us almost as much as we need him. Let’s not let him down.
Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., 366-3333, thirdplacebooks.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m. Tues., Sept. 19.
Paul Constant is co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read books coverage at seattlereviewofbooks.com.