Native Storyteller

The fact that there are readers in this town is indisputable -- Barnes & Noble doesn't keep the lights on solely with the profits of the lobby Starbucks. But Houston's literary scene is typically noticed only when a group like the Margarett Root Brown Houston Reading Series brings in writers like Sherman Alexie and Lorrie Moore.

Alexie's visit will be fresh on the heels of his first stop at the Sundance Film Festival since he presented the successful Smoke Signals in 1998, a film based on a short story from his collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. This time around the noted Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian is releasing his directorial debut, The Business of Fancy Dancing.

And Alexie now has two written works on the market: the novel The Toughest Indian in the World and his poetry collection One Stick Song, both of which helped prompt The New Yorker to select him as one of 20 authors to watch in the 21st century. "It's great pressure!" says Alexie, although he does admit that "it is better to be visible in this job than ignored."

All this action might lead one to think the prestige of a Houston reading pales in comparison. Not so, says Alexie. "Everything is storytelling: films, stand-up, poetry books and readings. This event with Lorrie Moore is not all that different from Sundance."

In light of his success, Alexie's sense of responsibility to young writers -- like those underwriting the event, the UH Creative Writing Department -- is typically self-aware and modest. "I have a responsibility to pursue my own eccentric individual vision, and if that enables or inspires anyone else to do the same, then I am happy," he says. "I can't be responsible for any other artist. I am barely responsible for myself."

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Brandon Cullum