Alexie, the award-winning author, poet, and screenwriter spoke in front of a large audience Thursday night in Beasley Coliseum, recounting his life growing up as a Spokane Indian, battling with alcoholism and becoming a writer.
Alexie, who attended WSU in the late 80s and early 90s, said the idea of attending college as a child seemed “an impossible fantasy.”
Growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Wash., Alexie said his family’s home didn’t have running water until he was seven.
After high school, Alexie spent two years at Gonzaga before he decided to follow his then-girlfriend to WSU, beginning classes in January 1988.
His time at the university was one of darkness.
“I was a lonely, alcoholic, desperate dude here,” Alexie said in an interview with The Daily Evergreen prior to his Beasley appearance. “Writing was the only thing that sustained me. Everything else around me was pretty out of control.”
Alexie took a poetry class with English professor Alexander Kuo, who realized Alexie had talent.
“About a week after the class started, he was telling me I needed to become a writer,” Alexie said.
While at WSU, Alexie battled alcoholism, which he said was an attempt at self-medicating his then-undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
“It’s not really a smart idea to use a depressive to be un-depressed,” he said.
Although he said he realized he needed to stop all along, it was an incident after his girlfriend’s birthday party, in March of 1991, when he finally did.
Alexie got drunk, left his girlfriend’s party, and did something he’d never done drunk before: he got behind the wheel of his 1965 Chevy Malibu and attempted to drive.
That night, police found his car, empty and idling, door ajar, in the middle of the Old Palouse Highway.
Alexie had left the car and walked home. He woke up the next day, hungover and tortured by guilt, and told himself he would stop. Upon opening his mailbox, Alexie saw an acceptance letter for his first book of poetry, “The Business of Fancydancing.”
“I took that as a sign,” he said.
Alexie actually dropped out of WSU three credits shy of graduation because he could not get the right professor for a 19th Century American history course.
“I kept getting these other old farts who looked like they had been teaching since the 19th Century,” he said. Eventually, Alexie was given his final three credits by the university on the merits of “life experience,” he said.
At the end of Alexie’s presentation at Beasley, the author spoke of how, in spite of the long, conflicted history of white and Native Americans, the two groups love each other because of one thing:
“Every religion is about stories,” he said. “Every good thing is about stories, and every bad thing is about stories. We keep telling them…and that’s how we make the world better.”