Art Works Blog

NEA Arts: Plainspoken Inspiration

The long, breathless wait is over: the new issue of NEA Arts is now live for your reading, viewing, and listening pleasure. This issue focuses on the concept of inspiration, and the many ways it can affect an artist's practice. As we conducted interviews for the magazine, artists allowed us to peek into their creative methods, and the processes, struggles, and triumphs that go into their work. 

One of our feature stories showcases author, poet, and filmmaker Sherman Alexie, who has given us poignant, often brutally honest portraits of Native-American life such as The Lone Ranger and Tono Fistfight in Heaven, the film Smoke Signals, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which received a 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Alexie gave us a lot of material to work with in this piece, including the tricks he uses to provoke inspiration, the time he faced a year-long writer's block, and why he has more in common with an abandoned mattress than you might think. But not every gem can make it into print. In the cutting-room floor excerpt below, Alexie—who often performs as a standup comedian—answered the question "Where do you look for inspiration?"

"Standup comedy is big for me. I used to do it specifically at comedy clubs but I didn’t enjoy it as much as being in front of literary crowds. I like coming at it through a bookish way, rather than as a complete performer way. So standup comedians who are social poets, socially conscious poets, the tools are much the same. A great standup and a great poet are very similar in their outlook and approach with language. The social commentary is really important to me, and the music of social commentary."

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