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Sherman Alexie on harassment allegations: I have 'harmed other people'

File: Sherman Alexie reads from his book, 'Thunder Boy Jr.,' at the RED INK Indigenous Initiative for All at Arizona State University, Tempe, April 22, 2016.
Flickr Photo/ASU Department of English (CC BY 2.0)
File: Sherman Alexie reads from his book, 'Thunder Boy Jr.,' at the RED INK Indigenous Initiative for All at Arizona State University, Tempe, April 22, 2016.

Prominent Seattle writer Sherman Alexie on Wednesday addressed allegations that have rocked the literary world over the past few days: That he had sexually harassed numerous women.

"I have done things that have harmed other people, including those I love most deeply," Alexie said in a statement. "To those whom I have hurt, I genuinely apologize. I am so sorry."

Alexie did not say what those things were. And none of the women involved have yet publicly revealed details.

But KUOW spoke with a woman who said Alexie sexually harassed her on numerous occasions. A man who said he witnessed one incident backed up her account. They spoke with KUOW on condition of anonymity.

Allegations pointing to Alexie began surfacing a couple weeks ago in the comments section of a story in the School Library Journal about sexual harassment in the publishing industry.

And last week, another Seattle writer, Litsa Dremousis, wrote a string of tweets saying she knew of more women who had been harassed and that they were speaking with the news media.

In his statement, first published in The Seattle Times, Alexie accused Dremousis of leading a vendetta against him and said that they had had a consensual sexual relationship that ended in 2015. Alexie, who is married, accused Dremousis of "outright falsehoods."

"There are women who are telling the truth about my behavior, and I have no recollection of physically or verbally threatening anyone or their careers," he said. "That would be completely out of character."

In a Facebook post, Dremousis acknowledged the relationship.

"I knew he'd use a consensual affair which ended w/us staying good friends as a way to discredit dozens of women 'who consented to nothing,'" she wrote on Facebook.

The allegations have hit a particular community hard: Alexie is one of the most prominent Native American authors, who has been especially popular with his young adult works.

In response to the allegations, several Native American groups have moved to distance themselves from Alexie.

Debbie Reese, editor of American Indians in Children's Literature, wrote an open letter about Alexie saying that she would no longer promote his work on the website.

The Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, removed Alexie's name from a scholarship that it had launched just last summer. In a Facebook post, the institute said Alexie's association with it had ended last October. But the director of the institute's master of fine arts program told the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper that the move was expedited after the rumors began circulating.

In Seattle, Longhouse Media director Tracy Rector said her organization was considering how to respond to the allegations. She said Alexie was a founding board member of the group, which produces and promotes Native American media arts. Though he stepped away from the board years ago, she said, his name had remained on the group's website, which was being updated. 

"I think we'll just leave the page clear for the time being and wait until we hear more about the situation," Rector told KUOW. "My main concern is the health of our native community." 

The Seattle Review of Books wrote in a post on its blog that it has both published Alexie's work and sponsored events featuring him. "We’re horrified by these allegations and take them very, very seriously. The best way we can contribute to the discussion in this moment is by not adding to the deluge of commentary until we have more information."

Alexie used to host a series at Seattle Arts & Lectures featuring other artists called "Sherman Alexie Loves," but canceled the series at the same time he canceled his book tour last year. "The future of the series was already in question given Sherman's departure earlier this [season]," SAL Associate Director wrote in an email to KUOW. "That future is no longer unclear."

Alexie is also an affiliate faculty member at the University of Washington, although he last taught a class in 2008. UW spokesman Victor Balta said they are not aware of any incidents at the university involving Alexie, and that his position is up for review this spring.

Seattle-area bookstores and libraries we contacted planned no changes in how they feature Alexie's books. But at Third Place Books, which has three locations in and around Seattle, managing partner Robert Sindelar said the staff is "having internal discussions" on the allegations, and is tracking the news.

Alexie has often been interviewed on KUOW's The Record and Week in Review. 

Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. His books include the short-story collection "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" and "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," which won a National Book Award for youth literature.

His most recent book is a memoir, “You Don't Have to Say You Love Me,” that explores his relationship with his late mother.

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