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Welcome to the Indian World: Sherman Alexie on Surveillance

Yesterday, I joined Barbara Jones from the Office of Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association in a conversation with author Sherman Alexie to commemorate Banned Books Week. Alexie is perhaps best known for his young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, an autobiographical story that follows a young Native American student as he leaves his reservation to enroll in a white school. The novel has the dubious honor of being one of the most frequently banned and challenged books every year since its publication in 2007. Alexie is not just a fiction writer but also an accomplished poet and screenwriter who spoke with us eloquently—and hilariously—about a wide range of subjects, including censorship, sex, poverty, Native American culture, and civil liberties.

As you'll have seen in this space, PEN has been reaching out to writers to learn their views on corporate and government surveillance. Here is what Alexie had to say on the issue:

When you start talking about a surveillance state, certainly on an overall level I get worried and suspicious about it. But I also think, "Welcome to the Indian world!" All of a sudden all these white folks are feeling a slight taste of what it is to be black, living where they're being watched and judged and potentially a suspect. But of course the government has been spying on us. I was not shocked by the report. In fact, I was shocked that it wasn't bigger.

Internet culture and internet technology have made it so much easier to spy on us and we willingly participate in it. We sign up with these places. Google scares me and I'm on Google. Facebook scares me. I get worried when capitalistic interests are the ones who contain all of our speech. These are giant corporations whose primary motivation is money, which it should be, but when you're talking about economic interests, you're talking about people who may not necessarily be loyal to their customers. So I worry about all of it. I worry that the world's largest bookseller is in court trying to become the repository for the CIA's online records. Do you really want to be buying your books from the same place that stores the CIA's records? For me, it's becoming one global thing which is going to control all of us. I turn into a leftist, paranoid conspiracy theorist and it makes me paranoid. It makes me feel like an Indian although I am already an Indian.

The full video of the Hangout is available here. You can listen to Alexie speak about surveillance at minute 32. Join us for our next Hangout on the Air for Banned Books Week with author and feminist Erica Jong on Thursday at 2pm. We'll be joined by leading women writers and bloggers for a lively conversation.

 

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