Sherman Alexie and I had been good friends for 15 years when I learned on October 17, 2017 that he had allegedly sexually harassed several women authors. I heard it firsthand from some of the women themselves. I believed them both because their details were so specific to Alexie and because for two years in the Nineties, before I became an author and essayist, I was a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. I also volunteered for Northwest Women’s Law Center (now Legal Voices) and for the King County Crisis Clinic. I know from training and experience that women almost never lie about sexual harassment or abuse.
The next day, I emailed Alexie and confronted him. I was direct, asked him what had happened and why, and told him he must stop. I noted that despite his being in therapy for years, he clearly wasn’t getting the help he needed. I severed the friendship.
He didn’t reply.
Instead, he immediately took down contact information for his agents and for his assistant from his web site.
Shortly thereafter, he removed his fan page from Facebook.
Four days after I confronted him, he cancelled his upcoming, sold-out series with Seattle Arts and Lectures, “Sherman Alexie Loves”.
Nine days after I confronted him, he resigned from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA).
At this point, none of the women I knew were ready to come forward with their allegations. As I’ve said many times, I’ve never and would never coerce anyone to come forward, particularly in a story, in part, about coercion.
I’ve been in the Contributor Network for the Washington Post for two years, i.e. I’m one of their regular freelancers under contract but not on staff, but my hands were tied: we’re contractually forbidden from writing a news story or even a feature story about a person we know. And regardless, none of the women I knew were ready to come forward. Ethically, I couldn’t tell anyone, so I didn’t. (I later discovered two of the women were trying to come forward; they didn’t know I knew about the allegations against Alexie and I didn’t know they were ready to tell their stories.)
By February 2018, children’s book author Anne Ursu had created a survey about sexual harassment in the Children and Young Adult literary industry. School Library Journal ran a feature about the survey. In the comment section, which allows for anonymity, several commenters alleged Alexie had sexually harassed them.
I’ll pause to note my mother was a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney and my father was Supervisor of the Sentencing Unit. Several of my family members and friends are retired or practicing attorneys. And again, I was a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate. I don’t traffic in rumors or innuendo. But I paid attention to School Library Journal’s comment section because by now I’d known for months that several women were alleging Alexie had sexually harassed them and that their allegations were eminently credible.
Shortly thereafter, in a Pacific Standard feature about Daniel Handler’s sexually inappropriate behavior, writer David Perry linked to the School Library Journal comments about Alexie. Pacific Standard is a reputable publication and Perry and I had known each other online for roughly a year and I knew him to be credible.
Ethically, I could now say publicly what I’d known for months, that 20 women were alleging Sherman Alexie had sexually harassed them.
On Friday February 23, 2018, in a string of tweets, I wrote what I knew to be true. By then I’d surmised that if Alexie hadn’t sexually harassed the women in question, he simply would have replied to me back in October and said, “No, I didn’t. What are you talking about?” instead of immediately deleting his assistant and agents’ contact information and his Facebook fan page, canceling his sold-out Seattle Arts and Lectures series, and resigning from IAIA.
Within roughly two hours of these tweets, Native scholar and activist Dr. Adrienne Keene, who has her doctorate from Harvard, is a professor at Brown University, and writes the popular blog Native Appropriations, tweeted that she, too, had learned in October 2017 of sexual harassment allegations against Sherman Alexie. For reasons similar to mine, she couldn’t reveal this in October; instead she wrote the blog post, “The Native Harvey Weinsteins” without revealing Alexie’s identity or that of any of the men she referenced.
Shortly thereafter, Duende District, a Washington D.C. bookstore owned and operated by women of color, tweeted that they had removed Alexie’s books from their shelves in October when they learned of credible allegations that Alexie sexually harassed women.
Within three hours of my first set of tweets, prominent women in our industry from different parts of the country were publicly declaring that they had heard credible allegations that Sherman Alexie is a sexual harasser.
By chance, I was in the middle of moving at this time. I literally signed the electrician’s invoice with one hand while I answered the phone with the other: it was a call from what would be the first of 55 (and counting) media outlets to contact me re what I’d written on Twitter about Sherman Alexie and sexual harassment.
The caller was Moira MacDonald, an arts writer at The Seattle Times. She and I had known each other tangentially for years, as do most writers in Seattle. She asked for details and I provided them. I spoke on the record.
I also told her, as I would do each time I spoke at length on the record with any publication, that Alexie and I had had a consensual affair years prior, that I ended it, and that we had stayed close friends, despite his pursuing me during my subsequent engagement. And as I would also do each time I spoke to any media outlet on the record, off the record, or on background, I made clear that I was in no way a victim and that it had been a good and easy friendship. (When he pursued me during my engagement, I in no way felt endangered. When I told him to knock it off, he did. I had to repeat it to him again months later. While I now see this as boundary-crossing, at the time it seemed more like Alexie behaving like the proverbial 800 pound gorilla I sometimes joked he could be.)
I disclosed the affair because, as I would later note, I knew he would try to use a consensual affair to discredit dozens of women who consented to nothing.
No one enjoys disclosing their consensual sex life in this context. I certainly didn’t. But there was no ethical way for me to discuss the mounting, credible sexual harassment allegations against Sherman Alexie without disclosing our consensual affair. It would’ve been grossly amoral if I’d looked the other way while women were being harmed.
MacDonald made it clear the Seattle Times wanted the exclusive. According to the notes I took immediately after we ended our phone call, she said that Alexie and I each live in Seattle and, as such, it was a story the Seattle Times could best cover.
I replied that Alexie is internationally known and that, to the best of my knowledge, not all of the alleged acts of sexual harassment occurred in Seattle. Also, I explained the story required a reputable national media outlet with a depth of institutional knowledge and attorneys well-versed in such matters.
MacDonald repeated that this was a Seattle story and that it belonged with the Seattle Times. She wasn’t obnoxious, but seemed to be doing her job thoroughly.
This will become relevant shortly.
By the next morning, several women had sent me direct messages on Twitter, thanking me for speaking out because now they felt they could safely tell their firsthand accounts of Sherman Alexie sexually harassing them.
A deluge of media outlets contacted me. Among them were Sam Levin for The Guardian and David Perry for Pacific Standard. As I’d done with MacDonald at the Seattle Times, I told them all I knew so far about the sexual harassment allegations against Alexie, that women were coming forward as we were speaking, and I disclosed the affair. The journalists for the Guardian and for Pacific Standard understood the sexual harassment allegations and the affair have nothing to do with one another, but they agreed it was smart to disclose the affair preemptively so that Alexie could not use it to discredit the women coming forward with sexual harassment allegations.
Later this same day, Saturday afternoon, Ellen Silva at NPR called me. Our mutual friend and colleague Phyllis Fletcher at KUOW had put us in contact. As Silva and I talked, it became clear NPR was best-suited for the job at hand: they not only wanted the story, as did everyone who contacted me, but they are, of course, among the most reputable news outlets in the U.S. And because they’re radio-based, the women could tell their stories and listeners could hear their voices as they told of being sexually harassed by Sherman Alexie.
Silva was extremely professional. When I disclosed the affair to her, she noted she had to ask me some intimate questions and I told her to ask whatever she needed to ask. I didn’t want an affair I’d ended years ago to cloud the sexual harm Alexie seemed to have done untold women.
Silva and I agreed I would coordinate with her and with her NPR colleague Lynn Neary. And the three of us coordinated quite well. I put in long hours for free both because the story was incredibly important–women were now coming forward by the hour–and because I did not confront Alexie privately or publicly for monetary gain. My goal was to stop him from sexually harming women.
A small glitch: NPR journalists are contractually forbidden from putting their email addresses on social media in conjunction with a story, so we had to use mine. Silva asked if I felt safe putting my email address on Twitter and on Facebook: women would contact me and I would forward them to Silva and Neary. I said that my name was already out there so, sure, that was fine with me. And we discussed that because I’d been a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate, I was trained in helping individuals discuss sexual trauma.
On March 5, 2018, NPR aired its eight and a half minute segment and released its online feature detailing Sherman Alexie’s history of sexual harassment. Ten women spoke to NPR, three on the record. While my interview didn’t air, NPR also interviewed me on the record. All of us were vetted by their lawyers and fact-checked by their fact-checkers. The story was lauded and, in the literary industry and in Seattle, it immediately went viral.
However, because I’d been the one Tweeting, the Seattle Times incorrectly surmised I was somehow driving the story. In the days before the NPR segment aired, their reporter Brendan Kiley emailed me and, also, called NPR at least three times that I’m aware of, questioning the methodology in place. No one at the Seattle Times criticized the use of Twitter until it became clear NPR had the story and the Seattle Times didn’t.
Their reporter Nina Shapiro, who referred to herself as “The Seattle Times’ MeToo reporter” (again, I took notes), called me twice and raised her voice each time, falsely insisted that I was lying, and asked what was taking “so long” to get the story to air. I replied that, quite obviously, I did not magically conjure the women coming forward to accuse Alexie of sexual harassment. I explained that the sheer volume of women coming forward required time because NPR is rigorously ethical and vetted each fact. For that matter, I said my role in the story was unusual–no one else had yet come forward solely to protect other women–but that it, too, was rigorously ethical. Shapiro and I discussed the affair on both occasions because she mistakenly seemed to think that it was relevant to the dozens of sexual harassment allegations against Alexie.
And, of course, because I was the one Tweeting, it gave Alexie an opening to try and discredit me. On February 28, 2018, knowing the NPR segment was coming, he issued his demonstrably false and defamatory statement about me. And where did the National Book Award winning author release his statement? To the Seattle Times. (Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz is now facing similar allegations. He released his statement to the New York Times and to NPR, as an internationally known author would usually do.)
It was clear Alexie was trying to dodge the sexual harassment allegations against him by creating a distraction. It seems he wanted to turned a story about his sexually harmful behavior into a story about a consensual affair.
And I refused to take the bait.
I issued a brief statement that night, but because the NPR segment had not yet aired, I didn’t refute his statement point by point. As I told my family and closest friends, Let him swing at me. I can take the hit. The truth about Alexie is about to come out. If it’s an awful few days until then, so be it.
This story has never been a he-said-she-said.
When companies, schools, or non-profits takes substantive action regarding a bestselling author, it’s because they know more than has made it to the public realm.
Since the NPR segment aired, Hachette, the parent company of Alexie’s publisher Little, Brown announced it won’t publish any new books by Alexie.
Hachette announced it would not release the paperback version of Alexie’s 2017 memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. (Technically, their press release said Alexie had decided not to release it, but who are we kidding? It was supposed to come out in April; no author pulls the plug on their own book unless they have to.)
Alexie “declined” the Carnegie Medal he’d won earlier in February 2018. When the Associated Press asked the American Library Association if they rescinded it or he actually declined it, they declined to answer. Infer what you will.
IAIA removed Sherman Alexie’s name from the Sherman Alexie Scholarship.
The American Indian Library Association rescinded its 2008 Young Adult Literature Award it had awarded Alexie for his Young Adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
Counterpoint has removed Alexie’s introduction from all future editions of Terese Mailhot’s memoir Heart Berries.
His literary agent Nancy Stauffer has taken down her web site. She oversaw a boutique agency and Alexie was her primary client. Stauffer was Alexie’s agent for the entirety of his career.
[Updated May 20, 2018] Royce Carlton, Inc., the Manhattan-based agency that represented Alexie for speaking engagements, no longer lists him among their clients.
[Updated June 4, 2018] According to the New York Times’ Alexandra Alter, debut novelist Tommy Orange requested that his publisher Knopf remove Alexie’s blurb from Orange’s acclaimed new release, There There.
[Updated July 12, 2018] I successfully obtained my cease and desist order for defamation against Sherman Alexie. Two weeks ago, my attorney sent a cease and desist letter to Alexie, asking him to remove his demonstrably false and defamatory statement about me from his web site, where he’d posted it under his own name and that of his LLC. It’s the same statement he released to the Seattle Times and it was picked up by dozens of outlets around the globe. We made it clear that I don’t want his money, but that he cannot lie about me because I told the truth about him. He was defaming me. And I know for certain his statement scared other women from speaking out, both against him and against other authors. My attorney gave him 10 days to respond. We reiterated that I didn’t want to sue for damages but would do so if he didn’t remove his defamatory statement. Yesterday he took it down. It no longer exists on his site. I gained nothing financially and wanted nothing financially. But we demonstrated you cannot defame the person who tells the truth about your behavior. You cannot shoot the messenger.
Alexie released 27 books in 27 years. No one in the publishing industry–or anywhere, for that matter–has publicly defended him.
Not one person.
So, now that it’s 100% clear I told the truth about Alexie, I’ll address the lies he told about me.
Because by now my rebuttal can’t distract from the awful, verified stories the women told about him.
- I never posted anything on his wife’s Facebook page. I have no idea if she even has a Facebook account. And I categorically denied this part to Nina Shapiro of the Seattle Times when she read me Alexie’s statement. The Seattle Times ran it anyway. And it’s an undiluted lie.
- It’s grimly bemusing that some persons–mostly comment section trolls–initially fell for Alexie’s blatant shoot-the-messenger misogyny. Even in a statement where he flat-out makes stuff up and distorts half-truths, he writes, “Our sexual relationship ended in 2015”. But he never says he ended it. Because he can’t. I ended it and he knows I have the emails to prove it.
- I didn’t attend most of his public events. Dear god. I attended two of his readings in 14 months, one at Elliott Bay Book Company for Thunder Boy Jr. I purchased four copies for friends’ kids and for my nephew. I purposely wrote their names out in Post-Its so I wouldn’t hold up the line. We briefly discussed the looming Game 7 of the NBA Championship and I left. Scintillating, right? The other reading I attended was at Seattle’s Town Hall with my best friend, who was room parents with Alexie for years. I showed NPR the photo of the three of us. As they correctly observed, Alexie is leaning into me.
- Yes, I brought Alexie food when he cancelled the remainder of his book tour, stating that his grief had become unbearable. We were still friends. I knew how hard he took his mom’s death because when she died on July 1, 2015, he emailed me 12 to 15 times a day for weeks. The day he cancelled the rest of the tour, I went to The Shop Agora and bought an enormous amount of baklava, koulourakia, and kourembiedes. Years ago, my mom made Alexie baklava and he wrote her a card saying he loved it and asked if he could have more. They wrote back and forth a few times and it was cute. Friends help each other in a crisis. He was in crisis and I brought him some of his favorite foods. No one really needs a further explanation, right?
- I emailed his wife in October because I didn’t want their kids to get sandbagged by the sexual harassment allegations that were looming. All the women in question are authors. Obviously, one way or another, the story was going to surface. I apologized for my role in hurting her, said I understood she didn’t like me and that I didn’t blame her, but I asked her to trust me because this was exigent. I wasn’t telling her how to parent. But if I had told Alexie, “Please sit your kids down and talk to them so they don’t hear it on the news or on social media,” I knew he would never, ever do it. I was hoping she would. I emailed her so that she could. It’s bizarre that Alexie would weaponize my concern for his kids against me, but it’s in keeping with what we now know about him. (I’m referring to them as “kids” not to depersonalize them, but to protect their identities.) And I didn’t “tell” her about the affair; she already knew, as it’s reasonable to surmise she knew about the affairs he had throughout their marriage. I wasn’t imparting new information on that front.
- When Alexie issued his statement about me, he wasn’t just trying to silence me, but to silence other women who were coming forward. It was deeply inspiring that so many women sussed out his tactics immediately. Yes, we had an affair. You know who else had an affair with Alexie? Lots of women. We’d been friends for 12 years in 2013 when he started flirting with me. Finally, I asked him, “What are you doing?” So, we talked at length. He said he and his wife were separated, that it was her idea, and that she was seeing someone else. He told me he’d had three affairs before me and I know he had at least one during my subsequent engagement because he told me about it. Plus, there are all the women w/ whom he had consensual affairs who contacted me after he issued his statement and then again after the NPR segment ran. They’ve been extremely kind because they feel I’ve taken one for the team, as such. Was Alexie really separated from his wife when we had our affair? I’d say no, that this is another one of his lies. But at the time, I had no reason to doubt it. We had a brief fling in 2015 after his mom died and my engagement ended. That’s it. Fini´. I think he was desperately trying to salvage his career when he made our affair a matter of public record, because it was monumentally stupid. I’d disclosed it to media outlets for ethical reasons. He disclosed it and opened the door to his consensual sex life, as well as to his sexual harassment. I’m not trying to be hurtful here, but he tried to portray me as a home wrecker and I’m not. He wrecked his own home.
- Based on NPR’s segment, additional investigative reporting from several journalists at Seattle’s NPR affiliate KUOW and from esteemed Native journalist Jacqueline Keeler for Yes! Magazine, and on the essay “Inmate #A-93223: In the San Quentin of My Mind” by acclaimed Native memoirist Deborah A. Miranda, it’s reasonable to conclude Alexie sexually harassed and bullied women throughout his career. He seems to have disproportionately harmed Native female writers. In his memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, he wrote that he wanted to honor Native women. Yet so many Native women had known for so long that he didn’t honor them. And in the same book, he writes at length that his family calls him on his lies and that he himself knows he has a flexible relationship to the truth.
- Everything about this story is wrenching. Alexie traumatized an untold number of women. His fans have lost their favorite author. I lost one of my best friends. Presumably, his family is reeling. And the man who overcame everything life threw at him–poverty, hydrocephalus, a lisp, a stutter, alcoholism, bipolarity, sexual assault, a brain tumor, and a heartbreaking number of deaths–in the end, couldn’t overcome himself.
Litsa Dremousis is the author of Altitude Sickness (Future Tense Books). Seattle Metropolitan Magazine named it one of the all-time “20 Books Every Seattleite Must Read”. Her essay “After the Fire” was selected as one of the “Most Notable Essays 2011” by Best American Essays, and The Seattle Weekly named her one of “50 Women Who Rock Seattle”. She is an essayist with The Washington Post.
Her work also appears in The Believer, BlackBook, Esquire, Jezebel, McSweeney’s, Monkeybicycle, MSN, New York Magazine, Nerve, Nylon, The Onion’s A.V. Club, Paste, PEN Center USA, Poets & Writers, The Rumpus, Salon, The Weeklings, in several anthologies, and on NPR, KUOW, and additional outlets. She has interviewed Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, Betty Davis (the legendary, reclusive soul singer), Death Cab for Cutie, Estelle, Jenifer Lewis, Janelle Monae, Alanis Morissette, Kelly Rowland, Wanda Sykes, Tegan and Sara, Rufus Wainwright, Ann Wilson and several dozen others. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @LitsaDremousis.