Louise Erdrich

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Louise Erdrich
Louise erdrich 8199.jpg
Erdrich at the 2015 National Book Festival.
Born Karen Louise Erdrich
(1954-06-07) June 7, 1954 (age 63)
Little Falls, Minnesota, US
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, poet
Genre Native American literature, children's books
Literary movement Postmodernism, Native American Renaissance
Notable works
Spouse Michael Dorris
Children 4

Louise Erdrich (born Karen Louise Erdrich, June 7, 1954)[1] is an American author, writer 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 band of the Anishinaabe (also known as Ojibwe and Chippewa).[2]

Erdrich is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant writers of the second wave of the Native American Renaissance. In 2009, her novel The Plague of Doves was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and also received an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.[3] In November 2012, she received the National Book Award for Fiction for her novel The Round House.[4] She was awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction at the National Book Festival in September, 2015.[5] She was married to author Michael Dorris and the two collaborated on a number of works.

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.[6]

Early and personal life[edit]

Erdrich was born on June 7, 1954, in Little Falls, Minnesota. She was the oldest of seven children to her father, Ralph Erdrich, a German-American, and her mother, Rita (née Gourneau), a Chippewa Indian (of half Ojibwe and half French blood). Both parents taught at a boarding school in Wahpeton, North Dakota, set up by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and her maternal grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, served as tribal chairman for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians for many years.[7] While Erdrich was a child, her father paid her a nickel for every story she wrote. Her sister Heidi is a poet who also lives in Minnesota and publishes under the name Heid E. Erdrich.[8] Another sister, Lise Erdrich, has written children's books and collections of fiction and essays.

Erdrich attended Dartmouth College from 1972 to 1976.[9] She was a part of the first class of women admitted to the college and earned an A.B. in English. During her freshman year at the college, Erdrich met her future husband and collaborator, 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 birthed her inspiration for her literary work, such as poems, short stories, and novels.

In 1978, Erdrich enrolled into a Master of Arts program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Nearly a year later, she had earned the Master of Arts in the Writing Seminars in 1979.[10] Some of the poems and stories that were written, which intertwined with her heritage, while in the M.A. program later turned out to become published works of Erdrich. She later returned to Dartmouth as a writer-in-residence.[10]

Erdrich remained in contact with Dorris. He attended one of Erdrich’s poetry readings and became impressed with her work. He then began to gain an interest in working with Erdrich. Although Erdrich and Dorris at a time were on two different sides of the world, Erdrich in Boston and Dorris in New Zealand for field research, the two began to work on short stories together. One short story that involved this collaborative work was titled "The World’s Greatest Fisherman", which won five thousand dollars in the Nelson Algren fiction competition.[10] Erdrich and Dorris then expanded the story into Love Medicine (1984), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. Around the same time as their collaborative success, Dorris left New Zealand, and upon returning, Erdrich and Dorris' literary partnership led them to a romantic relationship. Erdrich married Dorris in 1981, and they raised three adopted children and three biological children until their separation in 1995 and Dorris' suicide in 1997. Following Dorris' suicide, Erdrich released The Antelope Wife (1998).

During the publication of Love Medicine, Erdrich also produced her first collection of poems, Jacklight (1984), which highlights the struggles between Native and non-Native cultures and also commemorates and celebrates family, ties of kinship, autobiographical meditations, monologues, and love poetry while also incorporating an influence of Ojibwe myths and legends.[10] Erdrich continued to write poems, which have been included in her collections. However, though her poetry is well known, Erdrich remains best known as a novelist, producing a dozen award-winning and best-selling novels.[10]

Although many of Erdrich’s works show an influence from Native American heritage, her novel The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003) also included a focus on the European side of her ancestry. The novel includes stories of a World War I veteran that took place in a small North Dakota town. The novel went on to become a finalist for the National Book Award.

Aside from fiction, Erdrich has also written non-fiction. The Blue Jay’s Dance (1995) included the timeline of her pregnancy and birth of her first child, and Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country traces travels she took in northern Minnesota and Ontario's lakes following the birth of her last daughter.[11]

She returned to Dartmouth in 2009 to receive an honorary Doctorate of Letters and to deliver the commencement address.[12]

Erdrich and her two sisters have hosted writers' workshops on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota.[13]

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 currently lives in Minnesota.[14]


Her heritage from both parents is influential in her life and prominent in her work.[15]

In 1979 she wrote "The World's Greatest Fisherman", 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. It won the Nelson Algren Short Fiction prize and eventually became the first chapter of her debut novel, Love Medicine, published by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston in 1984.[12]

Love Medicine won the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award.[16] It has also been featured on the National Advanced Placement Test for Literature.[17] Erdrich followed Love Medicine with The Beet Queen (1986), which continued her technique of using multiple narrators 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.[18]

Tracks (1988) goes back to the early 20th century at the formation of the reservation and introduces the trickster figure of Nanapush, who owes a clear debt to Nanabozho.[19] 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 white 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.[20] She subsequently returned to the reservation and nearby towns, and 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), a macabre mystery that again draws on Erdrich's Native American and German-American heritage. Both novels have geographic and character connections with The Beet Queen. In 2009, Erdrich's novel The Plague of Doves was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. The narrative 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.

Erdrich's complexly 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.[21]

Birchbark Books[edit]

The bookstore hosts literary readings and other events, including the release of each of Erdrich's new works as well as the works and careers of other writers, particularly local Native writers. Erdrich and her staff consider Birchbark Books to be a “teaching bookstore”.[22] In addition to books, the store sells Native art and traditional medicines, and Native American jewelry. A small nonprofit publisher founded by Erdrich and her sister, Wiigwaas Press, is affiliated with the store.[22]




  • Love Medicine (1984)
  • The Beet Queen (1986)
  • Tracks (1988)
  • The Crown of Columbus [coauthored with Michael Dorris] (1991)
  • The Bingo Palace (1994)
  • Tales of Burning Love (1997)
  • The Antelope Wife (1998)
  • The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (2001)
  • The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003)
  • Four Souls (2004)
  • The Painted Drum (2005)
  • The Plague of Doves (Harper, 2008)
  • Shadow Tag (Harper, 2010)
  • The Round House (2012)
  • LaRose (2016)

Story collections[edit]

  • The Red Convertible: Collected and New Stories 1978-2008 (2009)

Children's literature[edit]


  • Jacklight (1984)
  • Baptism of Desire (1989)
  • Original Fire: Selected and New Poems (2003)


  • Route Two [coauthored with Michael Dorris] (1990)
  • The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birthyear (1995)
  • Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country (2003)

As editor or contributor[edit]



  • Two Languages in Mind, But Just One in the Heart (2000)

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  • Seema Kurup, Understanding Louise Erdrich (Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina P, 2015).
  • Frances Washburn, Tracks on a Page: Louise Erdrich, Her Life and Works (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2013).
  • David Stirrup, Louise Erdrich (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2012)
  • Peter Beidler and Gay Barton, A Reader's Guide to the Novels of Louise Erdrich (Columbia: Missouri UP, 2006)
  • Connie A. Jacobs, The Novels of Louise Erdrich: Stories of Her People (Peter Lang, 2001)
  • Lorena L. Stookey, Louise Erdrich: A Critical Companion (Westport: Greenwood, 1999)

Essay collections[edit]

  • Louise Erdrich: Critical Insights, ed. Jane Hafen (Ipswich, MA: Salem Press, 2012).
  • Louise Erdrich, ed. Deborah L. Madsen (London: Continuum, 2011).
  • The Chippewa Landscape of Louise Erdrich, ed. Allan Chavkin (Birmingham: Alabama UP, 1999).

Teaching guides[edit]

  • Approaches To Teaching The Works Of Louise Erdrich, ed. Greg Sarris, Connie A. Jacobs and James Richard Giles (MLA, 2004)


  1. ^ Stookey, Lorena Laura (1999-01-01). Louise Erdrich: A Critical Companion. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 1–. ISBN 9780313306129. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  2. ^ "Louise Erdrich : Voices From the Gaps : University of Minnesota". Voices.cla.umn.edu. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  3. ^ The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards - Winners by Year
  4. ^ Leslie Kaufman (November 14, 2012). "Novel About Racial Injustice Wins National Book Award". New York Times. Retrieved November 15, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Alexandra Alter (March 17, 2015). "Louise Erdrich Wins Library of Congress Award". New York Times. Retrieved March 18, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Birchbark Books & Native Arts | Minneapolis, MN | Welcome!". Birchbarkbooks.com. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  7. ^ "Faces of America: Louise Erdrich", PBS, Faces of America series, with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 2010.
  8. ^ See her website Heid E. Erdrich.
  9. ^ http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/louise-erdrich
  10. ^ a b c d e "Louise Erdrich." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 2010. Web. 23 May 2016.
  11. ^ "About Louise Erdrich." Department of English. University of Illinois, 2001. Web. 22 May 2016.
  12. ^ a b Lisa Halliday (Winter 2010). "Louise Erdrich, The Art of Fiction No. 208". Paris Review. 
  13. ^ The Three Graces, Minneapolis Star Tribune, February 4, 2008, retrieved September 23, 2010 
  14. ^ Halliday, Lisa. "The Paris Review." Paris Review. The Paris Review, n.d. Web. 25 May 2016.
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ a b "Louise Erdrich: About the Author: HarperCollins Publishers". Harpercollins.com. 2010-03-24. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  17. ^ "AP Literature: Titles from Free Response Questions since 1971". Mseffie.com. 2013-05-13. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ 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 [2]
  20. ^ Lorena Laura Stookey, Louise Erdrich: A Critical Companion, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999 ISBN 0-313-30612-5, ISBN 978-0-313-30612-9
  21. ^ See, e.g., Powell's Books (book review), Christian Science Monitor, August 2, 2004
  22. ^ a b "Our Story | Birchbark Books & Native Arts | Minneapolis, MN". Birchbarkbooks.com. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  23. ^ "Louise Erdrich - John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation". Gf.org. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  24. ^ "Bold Type: O. Henry Award Winners 1919-2000". Randomhouse.com. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  25. ^ World Fantasy Convention (2010). "Award Winners and Nominees". Archived from the original on 2010-12-01. Retrieved 4 Feb 2011. 
  26. ^ "Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas". Hanksville.org. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  27. ^ [3] Archived April 13, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  28. ^ "Author Louise Erdrich rejects UND honor over 'Sioux' nickname | Minnesota Public Radio News". Minnesota.publicradio.org. 2007-04-20. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  29. ^ "Dartmouth 2009 Honorary Degree Recipient Louise Erdrich '76 (Doctor of Letters)". Dartmouth.edu. 2010-06-07. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  30. ^ "Native American author Louise Erdrich '76 to give Dartmouth's 2009 Commencement address Sunday, June 14". Dartmouth.edu. 2010-06-07. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  31. ^ "Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards | The Plague of Doves". Anisfield-wolf.org. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  32. ^ "Louise Erdrich, The Round House - National Book Award Fiction Winner, The National Book Foundation". Nationalbook.org. 2012-10-24. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  33. ^ "Dartmouth Alumna Louise Erdrich ’76 Wins National Book Award | Dartmouth Now". Now.dartmouth.edu. 2012-11-15. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  34. ^ Lisa Cornwell (August 17, 2014). "writer louise erdrich wins ohio peace prize". TwinCities.com. Associated Press. Retrieved August 18, 2014. 
  35. ^ Hillel Italie (September 9, 2014). "erdrich wins lifetime achievement literary prize". Nashoba Publishing. Associated Press. Retrieved September 11, 2014. 

External links[edit]