Sherman Alexie in Tulalip

TULALIP — The main character in “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is named Arnold Spirit, not Sherman Alexie, but the line between fact and fiction is blurred. The boy in the book nicknamed “Junior” walks many miles in the footsteps of the prize-winning novelist who created him.

Both grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and both left a reservation school to make their way at a high school in an all-white community.

For the past month, people on the Tulalip Indian Reservation have been reading Alexie’s young-adult novel as part of a new literacy program, Tulalip Reads for Unity. Tuesday night the acclaimed author will meet his Tulalip readers.

Alexie, winner of the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and other prestigious literary prizes, is scheduled to present a free program at 6 tonight in the Orca Ballroom of the Tulalip Resort Casino.

Tulalip Reads for Unity, presented by the Northwest Indian College-Tulalip, was made possible by a $9,800 donation from the Tulalip Tribes Charitable Fund, said Brooke Waite-Kellar, site manager for the college. About 260 free copies of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” were distributed to people on the Tulalip reservation, “from middle-schoolers to elders,” Waite-Kellar said.

Alexie’s appearance is one of several events tied to Tulalip Reads for Unity. Readers gathered for book discussions. They watched “Smoke Signals,” an independent film written by Alexie, and some students blogged about the book.

The Northwest Indian College-Tulalip is a branch of the Lummi-based school that has about 1,500 students in North America. The Tulalip site, which is associated with the Evergreen State College, has about 100 students, Waite-Kellar said.

Zacchoreli Frescobaldi-Grimaldi, an English instructor at the college in Tulalip, said Alexie’s novel touched readers in different ways. “Younger students could identify with bullying in the book. And older students could identify with the history of poverty, not just in rural native communities, but in urban native communities,” he said.

The illustrated book “is a nice balance between the graphic novel and narrative,” said Frescobaldi-Grimaldi also teaches a GED preparation course. His students range in age from 16 into their 60s.

“All of them connected in some unique way with the novel,” he said. “It’s a very approachable novel for beginning readers or for people who read, but not for leisure.”

The teacher said he has known Alexie for many years.

In “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” Frescobaldi-Grimaldi said, “he’s definitely drawing on his life experiences.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460,

Author Alexie at Tulalip

Author Sherman Alexie will present a free program at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Orca Ballroom of the Tulalip Resort Casino, 10200 Quil Ceda Blvd., Tulalip. The event is part of Tulalip Reads for Unity, a new literacy program presented by the Northwest Indian College-Tulalip. Readers participated in events related to Alexie’s young-adult novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Doors open at 5:30 p.m. A dessert reception will follow the program.

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