Alexie was born to Salish Indians—a Coeur d'Alene father and a Spokane mother in 1966. He suffered from congenital hydrocephalus and underwent surgery when he was six months old. Though the procedure did not affect his ability to learn, he suffered harsh side effects, including seizures, in his childhood.
As a boy, he was much influenced by his maternal grandmother, a spiritual leader of the Spokane, who died when he was eight. Because of his health, he was unable to compete physically, so he became instead an avid reader. He went off the reservation to attend an all-white high school, where he was an honour student and class president.
His experiences there later fueled a young-adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007), which won a National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Alexie has also published many brilliant poetry collections.