By Heart is a literary influence series brought to you by The Atlantic. Writers tell readers about favorite-ever passages from books they love: lines committed to memory, words learned by heart. They share those passages—and the stories behind them—with readers.
Upcoming writers in the series include Fay Weldon, Ayana Mathis, Tracy Chevalier, Walter Mosley, Benjamin Nugent, Adam Mansbach, Andre Aciman, Dina Nayeri, and many more.
In this article , The Poem That Made Sherman Alexie Want to Drop Everything and Be a Poet, recently published in BY HEART, writer Joe Fassler interviews author Sherman Alexie who never dreamed of being a poet until he read the right one.
Alexie grew up on a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian reservation, confined by its limitations. The poet Adrian C. Louis cracked opened Alexie’s world with a line from his poem “Elegy for the Forgotten Oldsmobile.”
Louis wrote, “O Uncle Adrian! I’m in the reservation of my mind.” This single line released Alexie, allowing him to pursue his sudden and passionate dream of becoming a poet and later a successful novelist.
For him, “The line captured that sense of being tribal, being from a reservation—and the fact that you could never leave. I was the first person in my family ever to go to college, leaving the reservation, leaving my tribe, feeling excited about going but also feeling like I’d betrayed the tribe. And knowing that no matter where I ended up, or what I did, I would always be there. Some large part of me would always be there, on the reservation. At the same time, I’d never seen myself in a work of literature. I loved books, always, but I didn’t know Indians wrote books or poems. And then to see myself so fully understood in one line of a poem, as though that one line of a poem written by someone else was my autobiography … “
Check out Hanging Loose Press where Alexie published his first book. The Press offers internships in both Brooklyn and Boston.