If you are the one reader of my blog that is not my mother, you probably know that I really love Author’s Craft/Craft and Structure and love anything that allows me to pull back the curtain on what’s going through an author’s mind. I saw Sherman Alexie post an apology on his Facebook feed for cancelling part of his book tour and it was very moving. This link is for his Facebook post, and this is his website with the same message formatted differently (Link working as of Aug 2017 but location of entry may change), and here is a Missoulian news article about his cancellation and apology. (Note: As I was looking for more links to ensure you could find his apology, I found an entry where he wrote about reading poetry in order to help select and edit The Best American Poetry 2015 and it's great. There's some swearing so be warned. Jump to the end of this blog to read my thoughts about this entry.)

His note connected his current mindset with all the thoughts and emotions that went through him as he wrote his memoir which was focused on his mother. I haven’t read his memoir but many of his works might be used in a classroom (notably, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for MS or HS students and Thunder Boy Jr. for an elementary classroom). If you are one of those classrooms, think about how his apology can be used as a part of a lesson:

  • Have students write an apology for something (not turning in homework, missing curfew, skipping a bday party, etc.) . Then they read Alexie’s apology. Why was his so long? Why all the personal stories? How did those features and his style (repeating some words/cadences several times) make the apology more effective? Have students revise their apology. It might actually be funny if students wrote to apologize for something trivial and then were able to find anecdotes to include make the apology deeply personal. You wouldn’t want to trivialize Alexie’s reasoning for ending his tour but it’d be a great example of how one can craft writing with a specific bias or purpose and manipulate the reader.

  • Identify a short section of the memoir or a portion of any of his works that focuses on a mother figure and see how the word choice for the fictional mother differs from how he talks about his actual mother. Or contrast the word choice and emotions evoked in the apology that focuses on his mother with what’s in Thunder Boy Jr – which is about a father/son relationship.

  • Find apologies from other writers or artists who suffered a loss. Comedian Patton Oswalt’s wife died and he’s been fairly public on social media about how it’s impacted him. He may not be a professional writer but he knows how to craft delivery of a message. Compare them. Compare apologies that don’t have to do with loss but instead personal health, or celebrating a birth. Compare a literary hero’s apology with one of a villain. Find a scientist/mathematician/explorer/politician and compare their apology with Alexie’s (i.e., Joe Biden said he didn’t run for president because of the loss of his son – what was written by Biden about that decision?).

If you consider using his apology, you may need to be extra sensitive to our students. Some of our students may have lost someone important to them and this may be a trigger or trauma for them. Perhaps personalize the lesson to allow students to look at the craft of Alexie’s apology but then find a different writer who has gone through a loss and has found strength since. Heck, even looking at Harry Potter or other fictional characters might help. The point is to be sensitive and you know your students. * (Here is a link about grief in the classroom by NPR.)

Alexie’s apology is lyrical and you can see how his style of writing is similar in both it and his short stories and novels. Because it was published on social media (and his website), students might find it very accessible – they’ll automatically think “What do I know about a typical social media post?” and find the structure of it familiar. They’ll be able to think about the message a bit more. And because we’re so fortunate Alexie is here with us, we get to see what’s going on in his head and how the act of writing not only entertains and informs us as readers, but impacted him as a writer. There’s a lot of Craft and Structure (and so much more) that can be explored using this one apology as a starting point.

*I lost my father well over a decade ago to a sudden heart attack. I’m OK. We had a good relationship and waves of sadness hit at times, especially when I think about how he won’t meet my son or husband but I’m OK. However, I was at a dinner the other day with some family friends who did not know my father. One had suffered from a heart attack but was luckily ok. He told a very fascinating story about that evening and I was so glad he was there with us at dinner but I could feel my pulse rising and it was all I could do to not leave the table. Not because I was sad about losing my father but because I was experiencing this alternate reality where maybe my father could still be there or where this dear friend’s family could have been devastated. It’s one of the few times I’ve really felt myself “triggered” or re-traumatized and the best way for me to deal with it was to just change subjects drastically. I can imagine a younger student who may be just a few years (or months) out of a loss might need some careful consideration in a lesson like this.

Alexie's Poetry Post

What a fun thing to stumble upon! I love how the entry talks about re-reading, paying more attention to things. I love that it directly addresses diversity in reading and why it matters which is something I've written about before. You could use this selection in a variety of ways similar to what I listed above: Have others blogged about editing compilations? How or why does one select a pseudonym? How does the name of an author impact how you read something (an important consideration that addresses Common Core Anchor Standard 6)? Select 5 poems from the 2015 book and and try to find 5 others that were submitted or are just posted on the web now, unpublished anywhere. What differences do you note? Imagine you are in Sherman Alexie's shoes: You know which ones he put in the maybe or yes pile but do you agree? How would you rank these poems? Why? Are they even rank-able?

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