Award-winning author of "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven," among others
Sherman Alexie may be the most controversial author living in the Pacific Northwest. He has some good competition from Chuck Pahlaniuk for the title, but Pahlaniuk is controversial mainly for his writing's graphic content, and not for the things that he himself has said and done. (Even the radical politics of Fight Club are not really, when you get right down to it, all that radical.)
Alexie is an outspoken Native American who spends a lot of time thinking about and discussing the politics of the boundary between reservation life and the rest of America. This is the kind of thing you don't discuss in polite company in America, which is why it is so important to discuss it. The statistics about reservation life - suicide, rape, literacy, poverty - are frankly shameful. The history that created the reservation system, worse still.
I find myself thinking about these issues a lot, because I am a white non-tribal member who lives on tribal land (which is leased from the tribe). Let's just say, Columbus Day is not a big holiday in my neighborhood.
Alexie is also a basketball fan who vehemently (and ultimately unsuccessfully) tried to defend the city of Seattle against the corporate interests that wanted to pull the Sonics away.
A little while back, Alexie went on a long (and it must be said, somewhat crotchety and ill-informed) rant about ebooks on the Colbert Report. He unfortunately conflated the Open Source movement with piracy, and kept using the word "they" in a particularly paranoid fashion.
He has since backed off on some of his statements. His books have even been released as ebooks (at his publisher's insistence, he claims). But he remains staunchly firm on his position that ebooks shut out the poor, the demographic which most benefits from reading, and which is most likely not to if any barriers are put in place.
I am a big Kindle fan and advocate myself, but Alexie is right on this point. Ebooks can be had for free these days from many libraries and from online repositories of classics. But the readers still cost money, and what little kid can afford an extra $80 just for the privilege of reading?
We still have plenty of physical books in the world, but I appreciate Alexie's mandate to keep our feet to the irons, so to speak. In many ways Sherman Alexie acts as the voice of conscience. And if there is any better job for an author, I can't think of it.