Sherman J. Alexie, Jr., was born in October of 1966. His mother was Spokane Indian and his father was Coeur d'Alene Indian. Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. He was born hydrocephalic, which means with water on the brain, and received an operation at the age of 6 months. He was not expected to survive, but did, even though doctors predicted he would live with severe mental retardation. Surprisingly, though he suffered from severe side effects, he exhibited no symptoms of retardation and went on to learn to read by age three, and read Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath by age five.
Alexie decided to attend high school off the reservation, in Reardan, Washington, where he knew he would get a better education. He was the only Indian at the school, and excelled academically as well as in sports, becoming a star player on the basketball team. After high school, Alexie attended Gonzaga University in Spokane on scholarship in 1985. After two years at Gonzaga, he transferred to Washington State University.
Alexie had dreams of being a doctor but discovered he needed a different career path after fainting three times in anatomy class. Taking a poetry workshop at WSU, Alexie found he excelled at writing and, encouraged by poetry teacher Alex Kuo, realized he'd found his new career. After graduating in American Studies from WSU, Alexie received the Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship in 1991 and the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship in 1992.
A year after he left WSU, two of his poetry collections, The Business of Fancydancing and I Would Steal Horses, were published. His first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, was published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1993. For this collection he received a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction, and was awarded a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award. Alexie was then named one of Granta's Best of