SHERMAN ALEXIE IS FULL OF SURPRISES. Take his readings, where the 28-year-old author is likely to deliver a monologue in the guise of one of his colorful characters—or even do a little handkerchief magic. Then there is his writing, mined with a humor many readers don't expect. "One of the biggest misconceptions about Indians is that we're stoic," says Alexie, a member of the Spokane and Coeur d'Alene tribes, "but humor is an essential part of our culture."
Alexie has been a voice of that culture since stumbling into a poetry workshop at Washington State University in Pullman. Planning to be a doctor since his high school days off the reservation—at first he was the only Indian at Reardan High except for the school mascot—Alexie jokes, "I fainted three times in human anatomy class and needed a career change." He published 200 poems before quitting college and has been steaming along ever since. "I don't believe in writer's block," says Alexie, whose oeuvre includes eight books. "I think it's either laziness and/or fear."
Alexie is already at work on his next novel in the Seattle apartment he shares with his wife, Diane, 35, a college counselor and a member of the Hidatsa tribe. Alexie is also writing songs with friend Jim Boyd (some of their lyrics appear in Reservation Blues)—and playing lots of basketball. During the winter the author, a 6'2" shooting guard, managed to squeeze in three games of league play a week. "I would trade all of this," he says—and though there's a smile in his voice, it's hard to tell if he's joking—"for a year as the 12th man on any team in the NBA."