WSU alumnus Sherman Alexie won the National Book Award for his autobiographical novel for young people, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

Alexie received the award for best book in the young people’s literature category on Wednesday night at the awards ceremony in New York.

In his acceptance speech, Alexie said, “Wow … I obviously should have been writing YA (young adult) all along.”

Alexie, who has written 19 books of fiction, poetry and essays, credited Alex Kuo, a creative-writing teacher at WSU who gave him an collection of Native American writing. It helped persuade him to become a writer.

“I had never read words written by a Native American,” Alexie said. “The first one was a poem about frying baloney … I grew up eating fried baloney. The other was a poem by Adrian Lewis, and the poem had the line, ‘Oh, Uncle Adrian, I’m in the reservation of my mind.’ I knew right then when I read that line that I wanted to be a writer. It’s been a gorgeous and magnificent and lonely 20 years since then.”

Alexie is the fifth Washington state resident to win the award.

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