Native American author Sherman Alexie might be considered a contemporary Mark Twain in his ability to present serious topics in a light vein, a professor at the State University College at Oneonta said Sunday.
Alexie will present “Without Reservations: An Urban Indian’s Comic, Poetic & Highly Irreverent Look at the World” in the college’s Alumni Fieldhouse tonight at 7:30.
“He uses humor to get us to come to common ground to talk about hot-button issues,” said Susan Bernardin, a professor in the English department and chairwoman of the women’s and gender studies department. “He is someone who gets people thinking.”
Through support of the College Foundation, Alexie’s presentation of the college’s Mills Distinguished Lecture is free and open to the public. Tickets are required and may be reserved at www.oneonta.edu/commonread/.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity for Oneonta,” Bernardin said.
Alexie’s novel “Flight” is the basis of the common-read program on campus. First-year students were asked to read “Flight” in an initiative to engage participants and to infuse cultural literacy into academics across several disciplines this semester, college officials said.
Professors in English, education, psychology and biology are among the participants, Bernardin said, who led two workshops on implementing the work into course work.
Bernardin, who has taught Alexie’s work for 16 years, said she suggested “Flight” for the common-read project. Alexie’s works are “highly accessible,” including to people who don’t consider themselves “literary readers,” she said.
“Flight” is a coming-of-age novel that addresses enduring ethical predicaments, such as the nature and origin of violence and the nature of justice, Bernardin said.
On Tuesday, Alexie will address students in two sessions and faculty in a third, before appearing for the lecture, which will be followed by a question-and-answer session and a book-signing, she said.
Alexie’s appearance also will help dispel the stereotype that Native Americans have “vanished,” Bernardin said.
“His presence can tell us that Native Americans are here, contemporary and diverse,” she said. “He upsets all the stereotypes.”
Alexie has won awards for his work, which includes poems, short stories and novels about contemporary Native American reservation life. “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven” (1993) won a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction, a media release said, and his semi-autobiographical young adult novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” (2007) won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Alexie is a four-time World Poetry Bout champion and stand-up comedian who has been featured on “Politically Incorrect,” “60 Minutes II,” “NOW with Bill Moyers” and “The Colbert Report.”
“It is exciting to host Sherman Alexie, not only to interact with our students, but also to engage with an audience that is as broad as possible, “ said SUNY Oneonta Provost Maria Thompson in the release.
In 2010, the college committed to advancing diversity as one of six pillars supporting its strategic plan, the release said. The common read aligns with this goal by encouraging students to examine topics such as equity, inclusion and personal history.