Noted Indigenous author Sherman Alexie accused of sexual harrassment
Sherman Alexie may not be a household name, but his status as one of the most influential Native poets and writers in American literature means his alleged use of his social position to prey on women was straight out of Harvey Weinstein’s playbook.
Alexie used a statement to paint Litsa Dremousis, a Seattle based writer who initially made these accusations, as a liar, but NPR’s reporting uncovered several more women. The women were referred by Dremous, and about ten were willing to speak on the record about what Alexie had done to them.
Children’s book author Anne Ursu told NPR, “If you are an aspiring author, and you go to a reading of someone who is famous and beloved and whose work you admire, and he suddenly takes an interest in you and your work, and he thinks you’re special, and you start emailing, and he wants to mentor you — and then suddenly it turns out all he wanted to do is have sex with you. Those writers are left utterly devastated.”
Elissa Washuta, another Native writer, also mentioned Alexie’s status as a well known Native writer. She had hoped he could help her with her first book, but he wanted something else, she said. “Sherman told me that he could have sex with me if he wanted to,” Washuta told NPR. “You know, he had not said it quietly, he had not whispered it. It seemed that the men we were talking to could have heard it. I couldn’t believe that somebody would say something to me like that. This older man who I didn’t know, who was much more powerful than me.”
Washuta eventually became colleagues with Alexie at the Institute of American Indian Arts, where she says Alexie tried to get her to come back to his hotel room on a work trip. On a separate occasion, Alexie appeared to imply Washuta plagiarized his work, which made her fearful. Upon getting a new job, she cut ties with the Institute because Alexie was a powerful member of the faculty. Washuta says of the decision: “I think we did some really good work there. And I’m sure they continue to do really good work there. But I’m not a part of it. And that feels so lonely. I’m incredibly sad about it.”