The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven book coverThe ORI Selection in summer 2004 was The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie.

About the Author

Sherman J. Alexie, Jr., was born in October 1966. A Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, he grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, about 50 miles northwest of Spokane. Approximately 1,100 Spokane Tribal members live there. Alexie's father is a Coeur d'Alene Indian, and his mother is a Spokane Indian.

As a teenager, after finding his mother's name written in a textbook he was assigned at the Wellpinit school, Alexie made a conscious decision to attend high school off the reservation in Reardan, WA, where he knew he would get a better education. At Reardan High he was "the only Indian...except for the school mascot." There he excelled academically and became a star player on the basketball team.

He graduated from Reardan High and went on to attend Gonzaga University in Spokane on scholarship in 1985. After two years at Gonzaga, he transferred to Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman.

Alexie planned to be a doctor until he "fainted three times in human anatomy class and needed a career change." That change was fueled when he stumbled into a poetry workshop at WSU. Encouraged by poetry teacher Alex Kuo, Alexie excelled at writing and realized he'd found his new career choice. Shortly after graduating in American Studies from WSU, Alexie received the Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship in 1991 and the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship in 1992.

Not long after receiving his second fellowship, and just one year after he left WSU, two of his poetry collections, The Business of Fancydancing andI Would Steal Horses, were published. Alexie had a problem with alcohol that began soon after he started college at Gonzaga, but after learning that Hanging Loose Press agreed to publish The Business of Fancydancing, he immediately gave up drinking, at the age of 23, and has been sober ever since.

Alexie continued to write prolifically and his first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, was published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1993. For his collection he received a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction, and was awarded a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award.

In 1997, Alexie embarked on another artistic collaboration. Chris Eyre, a Cheyenne/Arapaho Indian, discovered Alexie's writing while doing graduate work at New York University's film school. Through a mutual friend, they agreed to collaborate on a film project inspired by Alexie's work.

The basis for the screenplay was "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," a short story from The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Shadow Catcher Entertainment produced the film. Released as Smoke Signals at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1998, the movie won two awards: the Audience Award and the Filmmakers Trophy.

After success at Sundance, Smoke Signals found a distributor, Miramax Films, and was released in New York and Los Angeles on June 26 and across the country on July 3. In 1999 the film received a Christopher Award, an award presented to the creators of artistic works "which affirm the highest values of the human spirit." Alexie was also nominated for the Independent Feature Project/West 1999 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.

He was a member of the 2000 and 2001 Independent Spirit Awards Nominating Committees, and has served as a creative adviser to the Sundance Institute Writers Fellowship Program and the Independent Feature Films West Screenwriters Lab.

Alexie has published 16 books to date, including his most recent collection of short stories, Ten Little Indians.

© 2003 FallsApart Productions
© 2003 Photo Credit: Rob Casey



Singer/Songwriter: Bill Miller
Wednesday, September 15, 3 pm
Hewitt Union, Steeper Bell Auditorium

Bill Miller in Concert with Jim Beer and Gathering Thunderr
Friday, September 17, 2004
Waterman Theater, 7 pm


Music Business with Bill Miller
Tuesday, September 14, 2:20-3:40 pm
Tyler Hall, Room 102

Native American Flute with Bill Miller
Tuesday, September 14, 4 pm
Tyler Hall, Room 41
Registration: Contact Robin Reece
Call 315.312.2975 or email

Dinner and Workshop

Racial Reconciliation
Tuesday, September 14, 6 pm
Fallbrook Lodge, Rice Creek Field Station
Pre-registration required: $10 payable at time of event; free for SUNY Oswego Students. To register call Tyler Box Office or email


Native American Art Exhibition
September 17 - October 23, 2004
Tyler Art Gallery
Reception: September 17, 2004, 5 - 7 pm


Native American Film Series
November 8 - 10, 2004
Steeper Bell Auditorium
7 pm

Little Big Man
The Last of His Tribe

November 12, 2004
Oswego Cinema
3 pm
Smoke Signals
Followed by discussion led by Actor/Director Gary Farmer


Spring ORIentation Kick-off
"Culture and Writing in Native America", a talk presented by Scott Stevens, Director of Graduate Studies in English, University at Buffalo
Monday, April 19, 2004 -- 4:00 PM, Forum Restaurant - Hewitt Union

Lecture by Sherman Alexie

October 5, 2004
Hewitt Union
8:00 pm

Event sponsors
Artswego, Auxiliary Services, COPE, NAHA, SA Art Exhibition Committee, and SAPB.