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Old Shirts and New Skins

Old Shirts and New Skins

by Sherman Alexie, Elizabeth Woody (Illustrator)

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Poetry. Native American Studies. Amongst the poems and prose of OLD SHIRTS & NEW SKINS appear illustrations by Elizabeth Woody, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Oregon. In the best tradition of confronting American reality and exacting vision and meaning from it, Sherman Alexie chooses to use poetic power. His vision is an amazing


Poetry. Native American Studies. Amongst the poems and prose of OLD SHIRTS & NEW SKINS appear illustrations by Elizabeth Woody, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Oregon. In the best tradition of confronting American reality and exacting vision and meaning from it, Sherman Alexie chooses to use poetic power. His vision is an amazing celebration of endurance, intimacy, love, and creative insight; finally, it is a victory that can be known only by a people who refuse to submit to the thieves, liars, and killers that have made them suffer tremendous loss and pain. "Like the woman who pours her life into a stew of survival, Sherman Alexie has created a meal, not for a reader to consume but for a reader to be changed by. Survival is being documented, changes measured"—Linda Hogan.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Alexie ( The Business of Fancydancing ) here emerges as a Native poet of the first order. He captures the full range of modern Native experience, writing both with anger and with great affection and humor. Detailing the continuing deprivation and colonialism, the poet pointedly asks, ``Am I the garbageman of your dreams?'' and defines Native ``economics'': ``risk'' is playing poker with cash and then passing out at powwow. Focusing on the Leonard Peltier case, Alexie exposes the ineffectualness of both white Indian-lovers and some Native leaders in ``The Marlon Brando Memorial Swimming Pool'': ``Peltier goes blind in Leavenworth . . . / and Brando sits, fat and naked, by the Pacific ocean. There was never / any water in the damn thing. '' General Custer is allowed to give an accounting of himself, as Alexie links genocide of America's indigenous peoples with Vietnam, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and other acts of warfare and destruction. Alexie writes comfortably in a variety of styles. Many of the poems turn on grim irony, putting the author himself in the traditional role of the trickster. Adrian Louis provides a powerful foreword, and Elizabeth Woody's moody illustrations add to the volume's impact. (Mar.)
Library Journal
When most Americans say, ``Hi, how ya doin'?'' they don't expect an answer, much less the truth. But when Alexie responds, he does so faithfully and with full eye contact whether you want it or not. A veteran of several literary publications, he has now published his first book of poetry. He is young, talented, and happens to be Native American, and his art is not aimed at the tourist. Instead, Alexie writes affectingly about life on a reservation in eastern Washington state. His work displays tremendous pain and anger, but there is also love, humor, and plenty of irony. Real-live late 20th-century human beings flesh out his poems and short prose. Not to be relegated to the New Age section, this work is recommended for literature collections in all types of libraries.-- Susan M. Olcott, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., Ohio
School Library Journal
YA-- This collection of poetry and sketches is the ninth in a series published ``for the purpose of encouraging American Indian authorship in expressive literature.'' In a style reminiscent of John Dos Passos and e. e. Cummings, Alexie opens a window into the hearts and minds of contemporary Indians who, for the most part, find their existence painful and disconnected from their heritage. YAs interested in broadening their cultural sensitivity will be profoundly affected by the strong images and harsh realities that arise from the wide range of everyday experiences and scenes covered here. The complex use of language and metaphor also provides layers of understanding that would make these selections wonderful discussion pieces. Every high school library will want this addition to multicultural collections. Encourage classroom teachers to peruse these writings as soon as the book arrives.-- Jessica Lahr, Edison High School, Fairfax County, VA
Kirkus Reviews
A terrific second novel by the talented young Native American author whose highly praised fiction (The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, 1993; Reservation Blues, 1995) has already moved him on to the short list of the country's best young writers.

It's a rich, panoramic portrayal of contemporary Seattle that uses the form of the mystery to tell some uncomfortable home truths about Indian-white relations, and indeed racism in all its forms. Alexie begins by focusing on the ironically named John Smith, who was either given up for adoption by, or stolen away from, his teenaged Indian mother. He is raised by loving and conscientious white "parents" and finds himself in traumatized adulthood "an Indian without a tribe," a misfit who belongs to no culture, wandering the streets among the city's homeless, seeking an outlet for the unfocused rage he knows he can no longer suppress. Is John Smith the "Indian killer" who stalks and murders white men, scalping them for good measure, terrorizing the city and provoking a rash of racially motivated violence? Alexie teases us with that possibility right up to the last page, meanwhile populating his exciting story with a host of keenly observed and rigorously analyzed characters. The most memorable include Marie Polatkin, a fiery Native American college student and activist with no use for sentimental white liberals; Jack Wilson, an ex-cop turned popular novelist, whose exploration (and exploitation) of a small trace of "Indian blood" in his ancestry infuriates his full-blooded "brothers"; and John Smith's adoptive parents, Olivia and Daniel, whose decency and good will are portrayed with fairness and respect. Alexie succeeds brilliantly at suggesting the time- bombticking character of John Smith's ravaged psyche, and the novel rips along at a breathless pace.

Both a splendidly constructed and wonderfully readable thriller—and a haunting, challenging articulation of the plight and the pride of contemporary Native Americans.

Product Details

UCLA American Indian Studies Center
Publication date:
Native American Series , #9
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
7.16(w) x 10.02(h) x 0.36(d)

Meet the Author

Sherman Alexie's poems, fiction, essays and films have won him an international following since his first book, THE BUSINESS OF FANCYDANCING, was published in 1992. SMOKE SIGNALS, the film he adapted from one of his short stories and co-produced, enlarged his audience still further. Alexie's awards include the Stranger Genius Award in Literature, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards for Excellence in Children's Literature in Fiction, and the National Book Award for Young People's Literature as well as honors and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Foundation, and a citation as "One of 20 Best American Novelists Under the Age of 40" from Granta magazine. An enrolled Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, Alexie lives in Seattle with his wife and sons.

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