READ BANNED BOOKS: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

You give those brown kids some books about brown folks and what happens? Those brown kids change the world. In the effort to vanish our books, Arizona has actually given them enormous power. Arizona has made our books sacred documents now.

—Sherman Alexie

 

Read Banned Books is a promotion from openroadmedia that brings censored literature directly to the hands of readers. Select e-book prices are available 60% off until September 30. Simply enter a valid email address and a digital voucher will me emailed directly to you. For more details and to see the full list of discounted titles, click here.

What’s it about?

Fistfight in Heaven is a collection of short stories that was poet, novelist and filmmaker Sherman Alexie’s first work to gain a national readership, and is arguably the second-most important book in the author’s bibliography behind the also-banned Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Several stories in the collection are frequently anthologized and served as the basis for Alexie’s well-received independent film, Smoke Signals.

Why was it banned?

Fistfight was removed from Arizona public school curriculum in 2012, two years after the state’s controversial HB 2281 was enacted into law. The bill stated Ethnic Studies Programs could not utilize books that do the following:

  • Promote the overthrow of the Federal or state government or the Constitution.
  • Promote resentment toward any race or class (e.g. racism and classism).
  • Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of being individuals.
  • Are designed for a certain ethnicity.

The majority of the books targeted by HB 2281 (which is still in effect, by the way) was literature pertaining Chicano/Mexican-American History and Studies. But the ambiguous and coded langue of the bill meant Alexie’s work was swept up in the torrent of censorship targeting fiction, poetry and nonfiction volumes.

Why shouldn’t it be banned?

Other than the fact the ban alienates already-marginalized populations in the United States? Alexie is a truth-teller, and sometimes the truth hurts. The stories in Fistfight are frustrated and angry in their stark reality, and all at once beautiful in their fantasy. While Alexie’s stories focus on the Northwest tribes and the experience of indigenous peoples, the themes of hardship, perseverance and identity are universal. Alexie had an opportunity to respond to HB 2281 in The Progessive, stating:

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Mexican immigration is an oxymoron. Mexicans are indigenous. So, in a strange way, I’m pleased that the racist folks of Arizona have officially declared, in banning me alongside Urrea, Baca, and Castillo, that their anti-immigration laws are also anti-Indian. I’m also strangely pleased that the folks of Arizona have officially announced their fear of an educated underclass. You give those brown kids some books about brown folks and what happens? Those brown kids change the world. In the effort to vanish our books, Arizona has actually given them enormous power. Arizona has made our books sacred documents now.

-The Progressive, January 29 2012

Is it coming off the blacklist anytime soon?

Not likely. The Tuscon Sentinel published this article in August. Arizona’s Attorney General Tom Horne, one of the two men responsible for HB 2281, was quoted during a town hall meeting as saying, “I went on a crusade against it and destroyed the entire program. Now they’re trying to revive it, but as Attorney General, I’m fighting it.”

Where can I find it?

Anywhere but a classroom in Arizona. Discounted e-book versions can be found here. Physical copies here.