When I picked up Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie, the first thing I did was flip to the back jacket and find his photo. “Barnacles!” I exclaimed quietly enough that the librarian wouldn’t tsk, tsk at my boisterousness, “I can’t read the work of someone who thinks mullets are still in style.” Indeed, Sherman Alexie did sport a fluffy 80’s mullet. Fortunately, I suspended my disappointment long enough to read Indian Killers and fall completely in love with his kind Native eyes, knowing smile, and brilliant mind–bad hairdo be damned. After relishing in a novel’s worth of his sharp wit, I decided it was inperative that I learn everything about this man that I could. YouTube.com to the rescue. YouTube had, and has, a plethora of interviews, readings, and film clips all with my favorite author. Every video I watched aided me in understanding the man behind the genious. Is he perfect? No. Is he all the more enviable because he’s a unique, flawed person? Absolutely.
Getting to know the author of the literature you’re reading is an irreplacable tool. Not only does it help you understand the author’s influences and thought process, but it exhibits the author as a real, working individual. Most high school students imagine that authors of their texts live in ivory towers and that words flow right from their delicate fingers to the page as effortlessly as breathing. However, when they see an interview with, for example, Sherman Alexie and learn that he had a very turmultuous childhood, they may be more willing to delve into Flight or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian because they feel a kinship (assuming that the author isn’t anything like Mort Rainey or Jack Torrence). When they understand that even “real” authors have to revise again and again before the manuscript is even sent to an editor, then they may be more willing to write creatively and for their own enjoyment, because they feel like writing isn’t something done only by “authors.”
And of course, YouTube is the key to all of this. Perhaps you could find a video of a reading on a univesity website or an interview clip on pbs.com. But, YouTube has it all and has it in an organized structure. I encourage all readers, not just high school students, to get to know their authors. It’s a special experience that can only enhance your reading.