Sherman Alexie is a familiar face around Queen Anne Book Company.
Soon after the store reopened in 2013, he spent a day at the shop as a bookseller, an instance that later led to the launch of the “Indies First” effort to draw people to independent bookstores on Small Business Saturday.
He’s made several more appearances since, stopping in to share excerpts from his books, or sign copies for readers.
On Thursday, Alexie was back again, this time to accept a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association award for his new children’s picture book, “Thunder Boy Jr.” The book was one of seven selected by a committee of independent booksellers out of more than 350 submissions from authors residing in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, and British Columbia.
Alexie’s latest work — illustrated by Yuyi Morales — tells the story of young boy named after his father, but wanting an identity all his own.
He traces his inspiration for the book back to his father’s funeral in 2003
“There’s a tombstone on my reservation a half-mile from my house with the name ‘Sherman Alexie’ on it,” he said. “So, talk about father issues. But it was really at that moment I knew I would write about it in some form. It just took a few years to figure that out. And then, also leaving the reservation. It was a combination of having the same name as the man, but also the way in which I left him.”
Though, the finished product wasn’t quite as heavy.
“It transformed into something that is far more life-affirming and less existential than my real experience,” he said. “It’s still existential — the picture book — but I filtered it down into the toddler’s existential crisis”
For nearly 90 minutes on Thursday, Alexie held the attention of a crowd of more than 50, all of whom had to register in advance to reserve a spot.
Along with an interactive reading of his book, as Alexie asked his audience to read aloud with him at times, the Spokane native spoke at length about his life, his work, and his takes on national politics, among other issues.
The fact that his appearance filled the bookstore was not lost on Alexie.
“I always think of that movie, ‘Broadcast News,’ where the William Hurt character says, ‘What do you do when your reality exceeds your dreams?’ And then Albert Brooks says, ‘Then you keep quiet about it.’ So my reality exceeds my dreams.”
As for what he hopes young readers take away from his book?
“That who they are is cool,” he said. “And that’s it okay to want a new name. That it’s great to want a new identity. That we’re all going to change. Everybody changes. Nobody ends up who they thought they were going to be.”
To see the full list of winners, go to www.pnba.org/2017-book-awards.html.