Officials at the Institute of American Indian Arts distanced themselves Monday from one of their most celebrated educators after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced online.
Prominent Native American author Sherman Alexie, whose young-adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian earned a National Book Award in 2007, has served on several occasions since the early 1990s as both a visiting writer and a mentor to students at the institute. Alexie’s most recent stint, mentoring aspiring writers in a low-residency master’s program, ended in October.
Jon Davis, director of IAIA’s Master of Fine Arts program, said officials “expedited” a name change to a scholarship that was in Alexie’s name as allegations against him mounted on social media sites and public forums.
“No one’s going to want to be the Sherman Alexie Scholarship [recipient] right now,” Davis said. “I can’t give that scholarship to a woman, for example. It’s going to be uncomfortable to accept that.”
The scholarship will be awarded next week in a new name.
While Jon Davis and another official, Director of Marketing and Communications Eric Davis, confirmed IAIA has received no formal or informal complaints about Alexie, Jon Davis said he has heard a few “vague” rumors over the years.
Both men said Alexie’s departure from the institute in October had nothing to do with the allegations.
Earlier this month, at least five anonymous posters on a national journal article alleged improper conduct by Alexie, who lives in Seattle. The posts appeared in the comments section of two separate School Library Journal articles about sexual harassment in the children’s literature industry.
“Sherman Alexie: me too,” one poster wrote. “Looking forward to the end of him getting to do whatever he wants to young women with the full knowledge of the people in power.”
Another poster said she had “spent the last decade dealing with the trauma of unwanted attention and past misbehavior from Sherman Alexie.”
A representative for Alexie did not immediately return a request for comment.
Since then, several prominent authors have publicly distanced themselves from Alexie, with one citing personal knowledge of a rapidly growing number of victims.
“Dozens of women have now contacted me or my colleagues re Sherman Alexie sexually harassing them, making unwanted advances, cornering them in rooms, &/or explicitly threatening to end their literary careers if they told anyone,” Litsa Dremousis wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
Dremousis, author of Altitude Sickness and until recently a longtime friend of Alexie’s, did not immediately return a request for comment. In a series of tweets on Sunday, she said at least eight of the women work in the literary industry.
She said each remained silent, fearing repercussions from Alexie.
Dremousis said Alexie “seems to have targeted Native women” and “seemed to view Native women in the literary world as the easiest prey.”
Jon Davis called the allegations “jarring” and “baffling.”
“It was a surprise to me, especially the extent of it,” said Davis, who has known Alexie for more than 25 years. “I’ve known him for so long. People say that everybody should have known. But I didn’t.
“He’s a friend,” he added. “But I don’t want to be portrayed as someone who’s not listening. I am listening. I’m waiting to hear the stories, and then I might have a different opinion.”
Contact Sarah Halasz Graham at 505-986-3862 or firstname.lastname@example.org.