National Book Award–winning author Sherman Alexie, whose prominence in the Native American writing community is perhaps unparalleled, is the latest author to have been accused of sexual and general misconduct.
The accusations—none of which have yet been made on record—first appeared in the comments section of a January 3 article in School Library Journal. There, Alexie was accused of sexual harassment, anonymously, by multiple posters, alongside other bestselling children's authors including Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) and James Dashner (Maze Runner series). Both Asher and Dashner have subsequently been dropped by their agents. Dashner's publisher, Random House, has also cut ties with him.
The situation surrounding Alexie highlights an emerging trend in how the publishing industry is grappling with purported sexual predators who also happen to be powerful members of the literary community. While reporting has outed some notable professionals in the business, such as former Paris Review editor Lorin Stein, many accusations of abuse against alleged harassers are bubbling up via social media, where accusers can maintain their anonymity.
In response to the initial allegations revealed on the SLJ article—and right after Alexie won ALA's Carnegie Medal for nonfiction—Jessica Hughes, the executive director of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), which is a division of the ALA, told PW that "ALA only recently learned of these concerning allegations against Sherman Alexie. We take this matter seriously, and we are looking into it." Alexie won the award for You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir.
Accusations against Alexie, which have been something of an open secret for weeks as journalists have scrambled to find sources willing to speak on the record about their experiences, reached a fever pitch on social media over the weekend. The social media uproar—mostly on Twitter—came in response to an article in Pacific Standard published last week, documenting alleged misconduct by author Daniel Handler. The article explicitly mentioned the Alexie accusations referenced on the SLJ article.
The Pacific Standard story appeared just before the publication of a BuzzFeed profile, by Anne Helen Petersen, of writers and teachers in the literary program at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), where Alexie has been a prominent figure. Alexie, according to the article, worked there "without pay for five years and funds a full scholarship for an incoming MFA student each year." That scholarship, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican, will soon be undergoing a name change. IAIA MFA program director Jon Davis told the newspaper that the name change is a direct response to the allegations, which he called "jarring" and "baffling."
The name change of the scholarship comes as a number of public figures in the Indigenous American writing community have begun to publicly address, if not outright condemn, Alexie and his behavior. Among them is Debbie Reese, a tribally enrolled member of Nambé Pueblo in New Mexico and a former professor of American Indian Studies at University of Illinois. In a post on the blog she edits, American Indians in Children's Literature, she announced that she was removing Alexie's photograph from AICL's gallery of Native writers and illustrators and planned to edit "any page that has referenced Alexie or his work." She went on to say that she "can no longer let his work sit on AICL without noting that he has hurt other Native writers in overt and subtle ways, including abuse, threats, and humiliation."
In the post, Reese included, with permission, Facebook comments posted by authors Janet McAdams, Joy Harjo, and Susan Power, which describe Alexie's alleged penchant for, as Harjo put it, "abuse of different kinds." Author Litsa Dremousis has also publicly severed ties with Alexie, and has been working to connect women alleging abuse with journalists covering the story.
At press time, neither Alexie's literary agent, Nancy Stauffer Cahoon of Nancy Stauffer Associates, nor his primary publisher, Little, Brown, responded to multiple requests for comment about the allegations.