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Regional author honored nationally

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Alexie (The Spokesman-Review)

For the second year running, an author with Eastern Washington ties has won a prestigious National Book Award.

When the awards were announced Wednesday in New York, Sherman Alexie won in the category of young people’s literature, for “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

Now a Seattle resident, Alexie is a Wellpinit native, who graduated from Reardan High School and Washington State University.

His novel is based on his own teen experience, telling the story of a 14-year-old boy who leaves the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend school in Reardan. “True Diary” has been a New York Times best-seller.

In an interview posted on the National Book Awards Web site, Alexie said he was at first reluctant to write the story in the first-person “because I was afraid of my own history.”

“I’m not a fearful person, onstage or in my books or anywhere else, so I was nearly debilitated by my fear,” he said. “I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish the book.”

Alexie has written poetry, novels and screenplays. Among his past works are “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” a collection of short stories, and “Reservation Blues,” a novel about a group of Spokane and Flathead Indians who form a rock band.

He wrote and co-produced the film “Smoke Signals,” which was set on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation. It won two top awards at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.

Last year, Timothy Egan won a National Book Award for nonfiction for “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.” Egan is a 1973 graduate of Gonzaga Prep who lives in Seattle.

Also last year, Spokane resident Jess Walter was a finalist for his novel, “The Zero.” Walter, a former Spokesman-Review reporter, graduated from East Valley High School and Eastern Washington University.

On Wednesday night, Denis Johnson’s “Tree of Smoke” won the National Book Award for fiction.

The 600-page novel tells of spies, counterspies and others caught up in the blur and horror of Vietnam from the day after President Kennedy was shot to the early 1980s. For fans of Johnson’s “Jesus’ Son” and other works, it’s a recognizable story of the certainty of exploration and suffering and the hope for salvation.

Other National Book Award winners Wednesday night, each of whom received $10,000, were Tim Weiner’s “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA” for nonfiction and former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass’ “Time and Materials” for poetry.

One of the nation’s top literary prizes, the National Book Award has been awarded to such literary greats as William Faulkner, John Updike and Tom Wolfe.


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