Louise Erdrich

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Louise Erdrich
Erdrich at the 2015 National Book Festival.
Erdrich at the 2015 National Book Festival.
BornKaren Louise Erdrich
(1954-06-07) June 7, 1954 (age 68)
Little Falls, Minnesota, U.S.
NationalityTurtle Mountain Ojibwe, American
Alma materDartmouth College
Johns Hopkins University
GenreNative American literature, children's books
Literary movementPostmodernism, Native American Renaissance
Notable works
Notable awards
(m. 1981; died 1997)
RelativesHeid E. Erdrich (sister)

Karen Louise Erdrich (/ˈɜːrdrɪk/ ER-drik;[1] born June 7, 1954)[2] is an American author of novels, poetry, and children's books featuring Native American characters and settings. She is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, a federally recognized tribe of Ojibwe people.[3]

Erdrich is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant writers of the second wave of the Native American Renaissance. She has written 28 books in all, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and children's books. In 2009, her novel The Plague of Doves was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and received an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.[4] In November 2012, she received the National Book Award for Fiction for her novel The Round House.[5] She is a 2013 recipient of the Alex Awards. She was awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction at the National Book Festival in September 2015.[6] In 2021, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel The Night Watchman.[7]

She was married to author Michael Dorris and the two collaborated on a number of works. The couple separated in 1995.

She is also the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis that focuses on Native American literature and the Native community in the Twin Cities.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Erdrich was born on June 7, 1954, in Little Falls, Minnesota. She was the oldest of seven children born to Ralph Erdrich, a German-American, and Rita (née Gourneau), a Chippewa woman (of half Ojibwe and half French blood).[9] Both parents taught at a boarding school in Wahpeton, North Dakota, set up by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Erdrich's maternal grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, served as tribal chairman for the federally recognized tribe of Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians for many years.[10] Though not raised in a reservation, she often visited relatives there.[11] She was raised "with all the accepted truths" of Catholicism.[11]

While Erdrich was a child, her father paid her a nickel for every story she wrote. Her sister Heidi became a poet and also lives in Minnesota; she publishes under the name Heid E. Erdrich.[12] Another sister, Lise Erdrich, has written children's books and collections of fiction and essays.[13]

Erdrich attended Dartmouth College from 1972 to 1976.[14] She was a part of the first class of women admitted to the college and earned a B.A. in English. During her first year, Erdrich met Michael Dorris, an anthropologist, writer, and then-director of the new Native American Studies program. While attending Dorris' class, she began to look into her own ancestry, which inspired her to draw from it for her literary work, such as poems, short stories, and novels. During that time, she worked as a lifeguard, waitress, researcher for films,[15] and as an editor for the Boston Indian Council newspaper The Circle.[11]

In 1978, Erdrich enrolled in a Master of Arts program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. She earned the Master of Arts in the Writing Seminars in 1979.[14] Erdrich later published some of the poems and stories she wrote while in the M.A. program. She returned to Dartmouth as a writer-in-residence.[14]

After graduating from Dartmouth, Erdrich remained in contact with Michael Dorris. He attended one of her poetry readings, became impressed with her work, and developed an interest in working with her.[11] Although Erdrich and Dorris were on two different sides of the world, Erdrich in Boston and Dorris in New Zealand for field research, the two began to collaborate on short stories.

The pair's literary partnership led them to a romantic relationship. They married in 1981, and raised three children whom Dorris had adopted as a single parent (Reynold Abel, Madeline, and Sava[11]) and three biological children together (Persia, Pallas, and Aza Marion[16]). Reynold Abel suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and in 1991, at age 23, he was killed when he was hit by a car.[17] In 1995, their son Sava accused Dorris of committing child abuse;[18] in 1997, after Dorris' death, his adopted daughter Madeline claimed that Dorris had sexually abused her and Erdrich had neglected to stop the abuse.[19]

Dorris and Erdrich separated in 1995, and Dorris died by suicide in 1997. In his will, he omitted Erdrich and his adopted children Sava and Madeline.[19]

In 2001, at age 47, Erdrich gave birth to a daughter, Azure, fathered by a Native American man Erdrich declines to identify publicly.[20] She discusses her pregnancy with Azure, and Azure's father, in her 2003 non-fiction book, Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country.[21] She uses the name "Tobasonakwut" to refer to him.[22][23] He is described as a traditional healer and teacher, who is eighteen years Erdrich's senior and a married man.[22][21] In a number of publications, Tobasonakwut Kinew, who died in 2012, is referred to as Erdrich's partner and the father of Azure.[24]

When asked in an interview if writing is a lonely life for her, Erdrich replied, "Strangely, I think it is. I am surrounded by an abundance of family and friends and yet I am alone with the writing. And that is perfect." Erdrich lives in Minneapolis.[25]


In 1979 she wrote "The World's Greatest Fisherman",[26] a short story about June Kashpaw, a divorced Ojibwe woman whose death by hypothermia brought her relatives home to a fictional North Dakota reservation for her funeral. She wrote this while "barricaded in the kitchen."[11] At her husband's urging, she submitted it to the Nelson Algren Short Fiction competition in 1982, for which it won the $5,000 prize,[11] and eventually it became the first chapter of her debut novel, Love Medicine, published by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston in 1984.[25]

"When I found out about the prize I was living on a farm in New Hampshire near the college I'd attended," Erdrich told an interviewer. "I was nearly broke and driving a car with bald tires. My mother knitted my sweaters, and all else I bought at thrift stores ... The recognition dazzled me. Later, I became friends with Studs Terkel and Kay Boyle, the judges, toward whom I carry a lifelong gratitude. This prize made an immense difference in my life."[27]

Love Medicine won the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award.[28] It is the only debut novel ever to receive that honor.[29] Erdrich later turned Love Medicine into a tetralogy that includes The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988), and The Bingo Palace (1994). It has also been featured on the National Advanced Placement Test for Literature.[30]

In the early years of their marriage, Erdrich and Michael Dorris often collaborated on their work, saying they plotted the books together, "talk about them before any writing is done, and then we share almost every day, whatever it is we've written" but "the person whose name is on the books is the one who's done most of the primary writing.[15]" They got started with "domestic, romantic stuff" published under the shared pen name of "Milou North" (Michael + Louise + where they live).[11]

During the publication of Love Medicine, Erdrich produced her first collection of poems, Jacklight (1984), which highlights the struggles between Native and non-Native cultures, as well as celebrating family, ties of kinship, autobiographical meditations, monologues, and love poetry. She incorporates elements of Ojibwe myths and legends.[14] Erdrich continues to write poems, which have been included in her collections.

Erdrich is best known as a novelist, and has published a dozen award-winning and best-selling novels.[14] She followed Love Medicine with The Beet Queen (1986), which continued her technique of using multiple narrators[31] and expanded the fictional reservation universe of Love Medicine to include the nearby town of Argus, North Dakota.The action of the novel takes place mostly before World War II. Leslie Marmon Silko accused Erdrich's The Beet Queen of being more concerned with postmodern technique than with the political struggles of Native peoples.[32]

Tracks (1988) goes back to the early 20th century at the formation of the reservation. It introduces the trickster figure of Nanapush, who owes a clear debt to Ojibwe figure Nanabozho.[33] Tracks shows early clashes between traditional ways and the Roman Catholic Church. The Bingo Palace (1994), set in the 1980s, describes the effects of a casino and a factory on the reservation community. Tales of Burning Love (1997) finishes the story of Sister Leopolda, a recurring character from all the previous books, and introduces a new set of European-American people into the reservation universe.

The Antelope Wife (1998), Erdrich's first novel after her divorce from Dorris, was the first of her novels to be set outside the continuity of the previous books.[34] Erdrich heavily revised the book in 2009 and published the revision as The Antelope Woman in 2016.[35]

She subsequently returned to the reservation and nearby towns. She has published five novels since 1998 dealing with events in that fictional area. Among these are The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (2001) and The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003). Both novels have geographic and character connections with The Beet Queen. In 2009, Erdrich was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Plague of Doves[36] and a National Book Award finalist for The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.[37] A Plague of Doves focuses on the historical lynching of four Native people wrongly accused of murdering a Caucasian family, and the effect of this injustice on the current generations. Her Pulitzer-Prize winning novel The Night Watchman[38] (2020) concerns a campaign to defeat the 'termination bill' (introduced by Senator Arthur Vivian Watkins), and Erdrich acknowledged her sources and its inspiration being her maternal grandfather's life.[39] Her most recent novel, The Sentence, tells the fictional story of a haunting at Erdirch's Minneapolis bookstore, set against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic, George Floyd's murder, and the resulting protests.[40]

She also writes for younger audiences; she has a children's picture book Grandmother's Pigeon, and her children's book The Birchbark House, was a National Book Award finalist.[41] She continued the series with The Game of Silence, winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction;[42] and The Porcupine Year.

Nonfiction and teaching[edit]

In addition to fiction and poetry, Erdrich has published nonfiction. The Blue Jay's Dance (1995) is about her pregnancy and the birth of her third child.[43] Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country (2003) traces her travels in northern Minnesota and Ontario's lakes following the birth of her youngest daughter.[44]

Influence and style[edit]

Her heritage from both parents is influential in her life and prominent in her work.[45] Although many of Erdrich's works explore her Native American heritage, her novel The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003) featured the European, specifically German, side of her ancestry. The novel includes stories of a World War I veteran of the German Army and is set in a small North Dakota town.[46] The novel was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Erdrich's interwoven series of novels have drawn comparisons with William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha novels. Like Faulkner's, Erdrich's successive novels created multiple narratives in the same fictional area and combined the tapestry of local history with current themes and modern consciousness.[47]

Birchbark Books[edit]

Erdrich's bookstore hosts literary readings and other events. Her new works are read here, and events celebrate the works and careers of other writers as well, particularly local Native writers. Erdrich and her staff consider Birchbark Books to be a "teaching bookstore".[48] In addition to books, the store sells Native art and traditional medicines, and Native American jewelry. Wiigwaas Press, a small nonprofit publisher founded by Erdrich and her sister, is affiliated with the store.[48]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Louise Erdrich, author of LaRose, talks about her love of books". YouTube. Archived from the original on November 18, 2021. Retrieved June 25, 2020.
  2. ^ Stookey, Lorena Laura (January 1, 1999). Louise Erdrich: A Critical Companion. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 1–. ISBN 9780313306129. Retrieved November 7, 2013.
  3. ^ "Louise Erdrich : Voices From the Gaps : University of Minnesota". Voices.cla.umn.edu. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  4. ^ The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards – Winners by Year
  5. ^ Leslie Kaufman (November 14, 2012). "Novel About Racial Injustice Wins National Book Award". The New York Times. Retrieved November 15, 2012.
  6. ^ a b Alexandra Alter (March 17, 2015). "Louise Erdrich Wins Library of Congress Award". The New York Times. Retrieved March 18, 2015.
  7. ^ "'The Night Watchman,' Malcolm X biography win arts Pulitzers". ABC News.
  8. ^ "Birchbark Books & Native Arts | Welcome!". Birchbarkbooks.com. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  9. ^ Tribune, Sarah T. Williams Star. "The Three Graces". Star Tribune. Retrieved December 29, 2022.
  10. ^ Gates, Jr., Professor Henry Louis (Host) (2010). "Louise Erdrich". Faces of America. PBS.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Chavkin, Allan and Nancy Feyl (1994). Conversations with Louise Edrich and Michael Dorris. Jackson, Mississippi: University of Mississippi. p. 155. ISBN 0-87805-652-1.
  12. ^ "Heid E. Erdrich". HeidErdrich.com.
  13. ^ Vanguard, The Patriotic (December 2, 2021). "2021 Pulitzer prize winner Louise Erdrich". The Patriotic Vanguard. Retrieved December 29, 2022.
  14. ^ a b c d e "Louise Erdrich". Poetry Foundation. August 24, 2021.
  15. ^ a b c Chavkin, Allan and Nancy Fyel (1994). Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris. Jackson, Mississippi: University of Mississippi. p. 94. ISBN 0-878056521.
  16. ^ a b "Erdrich, Louise | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  17. ^ "Master Butchers Singing Club (Erdrich) - LitLovers". www.litlovers.com. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  18. ^ Rawson, Josie (April 21, 1997). "A Broken Life". Salon.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  19. ^ a b "Adopted daughter sues Michael Dorris estate, alleging sex abuse". AP NEWS. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  20. ^ Gray, Paul (April 1, 2001). "A Woman With a Habit". Time. Retrieved March 5, 2020.
  21. ^ a b "'Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country' by Louise Erdrich". old.post-gazette.com. Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  22. ^ a b Erdrich, Louise (2014). Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country. Harper Perennial. pp. 52, 57. ISBN 978-0-06-230996-9.
  23. ^ Knoeller, Christian (2012). "Landscape and Language in Erdrich's "Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country"". Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. 19 (4): 645–660. doi:10.1093/isle/iss111. ISSN 1076-0962. JSTOR 44087160.
  24. ^ Learning, Gale, Cengage (March 13, 2015). A study guide for Louise Erdrich's "The Bingo Palace". Gale, Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-1-4103-2049-0.
  25. ^ a b Halliday, Lisa (Winter 2010). "Louise Erdrich, The Art of Fiction". The Paris Review. Winter 2010 (208).
  26. ^ Erdrich, Louise. ""The World's Greatest Fisherman"". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved October 4, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  27. ^ Crowder, Courtney (July 21, 2019). "A look back at winners of the Nelson Algren Short Story Award". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 21, 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  28. ^ a b "Louise Erdrich: About the Author: HarperCollins Publishers". Harpercollins.com. March 24, 2010. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  29. ^ Streitfeld, David (July 13, 1997). ""Sad Story"". Washington Post.
  30. ^ "AP Literature: Titles from Free Response Questions since 1971". Mseffie.com. May 13, 2013. Archived from the original on November 30, 2014. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  31. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (August 20, 1986). "Books of the Times". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  32. ^ Susan Castillo "Postmodernism, Native American Literature, and the Real: The Silko-Erdrich Controversy" in Notes from the Periphery: Marginality in North American Literature and Culture New York: Peter Lang, 1995. 179–190.
  33. ^ There are many studies of the trickster figure in Erdrich's novels. A recent study that makes the connection between Nanabozho and Nanpush is "The Trickster and World Maintenance: An Anishinaabe Reading of Louise Erdrich's Tracks" by Lawrence W. Gross [1] Archived April 23, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  34. ^ Lorena Laura Stookey, Louise Erdrich: A Critical Companion, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999 ISBN 0-313-30612-5, ISBN 978-0-313-30612-9
  35. ^ "Antelope Woman by Louise Erdrich". Bookshop Santa Cruz. Retrieved January 3, 2023.
  36. ^ "Finalist: The Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins)". www.pulitzer.org. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  37. ^ "The Last Report on the Miracle at Little No Horse". National Book Foundation. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  38. ^ "The 2021 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Fiction". www.pulitzer.org. Retrieved September 22, 2021.
  39. ^ Louise, Erdrich. "Louise Erdrich American author". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved October 4, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  40. ^ Jones, Malcolm (November 9, 2021). "A New Novel by Louise Erdrich Haunted by Covid and George Floyd's Death". The New York Times.
  41. ^ "The Birchbark House". National Book Foundation. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  42. ^ O'Dell, Scott. "Scott O'Dell". www.scottodell.com. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  43. ^ "The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year by Louise Erdrich". www.publishersweekly.com. n.d. Retrieved May 13, 2023.
  44. ^ Department of English (2001). "About Louise Erdrich". University of Illinois. Retrieved May 22, 2016.
  45. ^ "Louise Erdrich". Poetry Foundation. May 12, 2018. Retrieved May 13, 2018.
  46. ^ Allen, Brooke (February 9, 2003). "Her Own Private North Dakota". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  47. ^ See, e.g., Powell's Books (book review), The Christian Science Monitor, August 2, 2004
  48. ^ a b "Our Story | Birchbark Books & Native Arts | Minneapolis, MN". Birchbarkbooks.com. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  49. ^ "Louise Erdrich - Artist". MacDowell.
  50. ^ "Erdrich, Louise". Encyclopedia.com. 2005. Retrieved June 6, 2019.
  51. ^ "Louise Erdrich – John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation". Gf.org. Archived from the original on August 19, 2014. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  52. ^ "Bold Type: O. Henry Award Winners 1919–2000". Randomhouse.com. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  53. ^ World Fantasy Convention (2010). "Award Winners and Nominees". Archived from the original on December 1, 2010. Retrieved February 4, 2011.
  54. ^ "Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas". Hanksville.org. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  55. ^ Salahub, Jill (November 9, 2017). "Native American Heritage Month: Louise Erdrich". Colorado State University. Retrieved June 6, 2019.
  56. ^ [2] Archived April 13, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  57. ^ "Author Louise Erdrich rejects UND honor over 'Sioux' nickname | Minnesota Public Radio News". Minnesota.publicradio.org. April 20, 2007. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  58. ^ "Dartmouth 2009 Honorary Degree Recipient Louise Erdrich '76 (Doctor of Letters)". Dartmouth.edu. June 7, 2010. Archived from the original on August 19, 2014. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  59. ^ "Native American author Louise Erdrich '76 to give Dartmouth's 2009 Commencement address Sunday, June 14". Dartmouth.edu. June 7, 2010. Archived from the original on December 3, 2014. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  60. ^ "Kenyon Review for Literary Achievement". KenyonReview.org.
  61. ^ "Anisfield-Wolf Awards". Anisfield-Wolf Awards. 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  62. ^ "Louise Erdrich, The Round House – National Book Award Fiction Winner, The National Book Foundation". Nationalbook.org. October 24, 2012. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  63. ^ "Dartmouth Alumna Louise Erdrich '76 Wins National Book Award | Dartmouth Now". Now.dartmouth.edu. November 15, 2012. Archived from the original on August 19, 2014. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
  64. ^ "Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award". Office of Governor, State of North Dakota. 2016. Retrieved June 6, 2019.
  65. ^ Lisa Cornwell (August 17, 2014). "writer louise erdrich wins ohio peace prize". TwinCities.com. Associated Press. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
  66. ^ Hillel Italie (September 9, 2014). "erdrich wins lifetime achievement literary prize". Nashoba Publishing. Associated Press. Archived from the original on September 11, 2014. Retrieved September 11, 2014.
  67. ^ "National Book Critics Circle: award winners". National Book Critics Circle. 2018. Archived from the original on April 27, 2019. Retrieved June 6, 2019.
  68. ^ "The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich (Harper)". The Pulizer Prizes. Retrieved June 11, 2021.
  69. ^ Times, The New York (June 11, 2021). "Pulitzer Prize: 2021 Winners List". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  70. ^ Pool, Press (November 14, 2022). "United States Artists awards Louise Erdrich 2022 Berresford Prize". ICT. Retrieved December 29, 2022.

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