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Sherman Alexie's 6 favorite books about identity

The Native American novelist discusses Where Did You Sleep Last Night?, Wild Hundreds, and more

Sherman Alexie is a Native American novelist, poet, and short-story writer. Here's his favorite reads about exploring your origins and seeing yourself clearly:

Where Did You Sleep Last Night? by Danzy Senna (Picador, $19).

This is a memoir about a diverse, artistically accomplished, and incredibly mysterious family. Senna, who was abandoned in childhood by her black father and raised by her white mother, tells the story of her father and his unknown, unknowable origins. I am amazed by her empathy for him.

Wild Hundreds by Nate Marshall (Univ. of Pittsburgh, $16).

Funny, violent, beautiful, and aching for redemption: These are the poems of a 21st-century African-American man who's immersed equally in academic poetry and hip-hop. Beautiful rhymes and rhythms abound. There's tragedy, too. This is probably my favorite poetry book of the past few years.

Wondering Who You Are by Sonya Lea (Tin House, $16).

After her husband sustains a memory-erasing traumatic brain injury, Lea has to rebuild her entire life with him, from the beginning of their courtship to their becoming parents, and learn, in middle age, to fall in love again. What happens to a person whose identity is completely erased? How does one start over?

Monstress by Lysley Tenorio (Ecco, $14).

These stories about Filipino-Americans are hilarious, strange, and pop-culture-obsessed. They remind me that the first-generation immigrant experience is very similar to the Native American experience: Lost in the culture but also in love with the culture. And it's vitally important that we read American immigrant stories. Empathy wins!

Bird Box by Josh Malerman (Ecco, $16).

This is the scariest novel I have read in years and years. Its monsters can only see you if you open your eyes, so our heroes must keep theirs closed at all times. The book begins with an escape down a garden path that leads into a haunted house — and then our heroes continue their escape by taking a sightless journey down a river by raft. A highly original horror novel.

My Emily Dickinson by Susan Howe (New Directions, $16).

This is quite simply the best scholarship on Emily Dickinson's poems. But it's also a spiritual biography and autobiography. I return to it as often as I return to Dickinson's poems. How much do you love Dickinson? Not as much as Susan Howe.

Sherman Alexie is the award-winning author of Reservation Blues, War Dances, and The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian. His first picture book, Thunder Boy Jr., has just been published by Little, Brown.

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