Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich. Courtesy Parnassus Books.

Louise Erdrich
Born June 7, 1954 (1954-06-07) (age 64)
Little Falls, Minnesota, United States
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, poet
Genres Native American literature
Literary movement Postmodernism
Notable work(s) Love Medicine

Karen Louise Erdrich (born June 7, 1954)[1] is an American poet, novelist, and author of children's books featuring Native American heritage.



Erdrich is widely acclaimed as among the most significant writers of the 2nd wave of what critic Kenneth Lincoln has called the Native American Renaissance.(Citation needed) She is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis.[2]



Erdrich is an enrolled member of the Anishinaabe nation (also known as Ojibwa and Chippewa). She also has German, French, and American ancestry.

A sister, Heidi, publishes under the name Heid E. Erdrich; she is a poet who also resides in Minnesota. Another sister, Lise Erdrich, has written children's books and collections of fiction and essays. For the past few years, the 3 Erdrich sisters have hosted annual writers' workshops on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota.[3]

Award-winning photographer Ronald W. Erdrich is ar cousins: He lives and works in Abilene, Texas, and was named "Star Photojournalist of the Year" in 2004 by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors association.

Youth and educationEdit

The eldest of 7 children, Louise Erdrich was born in Little Falls, Minnesota, the daughter of Ralph Erdrich, a German-American, and his wife, Rita (Gourneau) Erdrich, who was of Métis ancestry. Rita's father and Louise's grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, had served as tribal chairman for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in the 1950s.

Erdrich grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her parents taught at the Bureau of Indian Affairs school.[4] She is a tribal descendant of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

Erdrich attended Dartmouth College from 1972 to 1976, earning a B.A. degree and meeting her future husband, pseudo-Modoc anthropologist and writer Michael Dorris, who was then director of the Dartmouth’s Native American Studies program.


Subsequently, Erdrich worked in a wide variety of jobs, including as a lifeguard, waitress, poetry teacher at prisons, and construction flag signaller. She also became an editor for The Circle, a newspaper produced by and for the urban Native population in Boston. Erdrich earned a Master of Arts degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University in 1979.

In the period from 1978 to 1982, Erdrich published many poems and short stories. She also began collaborating with Dorris, initially working through the mail while Dorris was working in New Zealand. The relationship progressed, and the 2 were married in 1981. During this time, Erdrich assembled the material that would eventually be published as the poetry collection Jacklight.

Dorris and Erdrich had 6 children, 3 adopted by Dorris when he was single. After their marriage, Erdrich also adopted them, and the couple had 3 daughters together. Some of the children had difficulties.

In 1989 Dorris published The Broken Cord, a book about fetal alcohol syndrome, from which their adopted son Reynold Abel suffered. Dorris had discovered FAS was a widespread, and until then, relatively undiagnosed problem among Native American children resulting from mothers' alcoholism. In 1991, Reynold Abel was hit by a car and killed at age 23.

In 1995 their son Jeffrey Sava accused them both of child abuse. Dorris and Erdrich unsuccessfully pursued an extortion case against him. Shortly afterward, Dorris and Erdrich separated and began divorce proceedings. Erdrich claimed that Dorris had been depressed since the second year of their marriage.[5] On April 11, 1997, Michael Dorris committed suicide in Concord, New Hampshire.[6]


Love MedicineEdit

In 1984, Erdrich published the novel Love Medicine. Made up of disjointed, yet interconnected, short narratives, each told from the perspective of a different character, and moving backwards and forward in time through every decade between the 1930s and the present day, Love Medicine told the stories of several families living on a North Dakota Ojibwe reservation.

The innovative techniques used in Love Medicine, which owed a great deal to the works of William Faulkner, yet having little precedent in Native-authored fiction, allowed Erdrich to build up a picture of a community in a reservation setting. Love Medicine received praise from authors and critics, such as N. Scott Momaday and Gerald Vizenor, and was awarded the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award. It has never been out of print.

The Beet QueenEdit

Erdrich followed Love Medicine with The Beet Queen, which continued her technique of using multiple narrators, yet surprised many critics by expanding the fictional reservation universe of Love Medicine to include the nearby town of Argus, North Dakota. Native characters are very much kept in the background in The Beet Queen, while Erdrich focuses on the German-American community. The action of the novel takes place mostly before World War II.

The Beet Queen was subject to a bitter attack from Native novelist Leslie Marmon Silko, who accused Erdrich of being more concerned with postmodern technique than with the political struggles of Native peoples.[7]

Other collaborations with DorrisEdit

Erdrich's and Dorris’s collaboration continued through the 1980s and into the 1990s, always occupying the same fictional universe.

Tracks 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.[8] Erdrich’s novel most rooted in Anishinaabe culture (at least until Four Souls), Tracks shows early clashes between traditional ways and the Roman Catholic Church.

The Bingo Palace updates, yet does not resolve, various conflicts from Love Medicine. Set in the 1980s, it shows the good and bad effects of a casino and a factory on the reservation community. Finally, Tales of Burning Love 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.

Erdrich and Dorris wrote The Crown of Columbus, the only novel to which both put their names, and A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, credited to Dorris. Both were set off the Argus reservation.

Later writingEdit

Erdrich’s 1st novel after her divorce, The Antelope Wife, was the first to be set outside the continuity of the previous books.[9] 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 Master Butchers Singing Club, a macabre mystery that again draws on Erdrich's Native American and German-American heritage, and The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. Both have geographic and character connections with The Beet Queen.

Together with several of her previous works, these have drawn comparisons with William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha novels. 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.[10]

In The Plague of Doves, Erdrich continued the multi-ethnic dimension of her writing, weaving together the layered relationships among residents of farms, towns, and reservations; their shared histories, secrets, relationships, and antipathies; and the complexities for later generations of re-imagining their ancestors' overlapping pasts.

Erdrich's latest novel, Shadow Tag, published in 2010, is the chilling tale of a failing marriage between two Native Americans of differing tribal backgrounds, whose artistic and family life deteriorate into ennui, deceit, and abuse, all of which are attributed to the overbearing, potentially sociopathic tendencies of a domineering, abusive husband, but who, despite it all, can live neither with nor without each other.


In 1982, Erdrich's story, "The World’s Greatest Fisherman", was awarded the $5,000 Nelson Algren Prize for short fiction. In April 2009, her novel The Plague of Doves was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Other awards she has won include:


  • O. Henry Award, for the short story "Fleur" (published in Esquire, August 1986) (1987)
  • Pushcart Prize in Poetry
  • Western Literacy Association Award
  • Guggenheim Fellowship
  • National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, for Love Medicine (1984)
  • World Fantasy Award, for The Antelope Wife (1999)[11]
  • Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas (2000).[12]
  • Associate Poet Laureate of North Dakota, 2005
  • Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, for the children's book "The Game of Silence" (2006)
  • In April 2007 the University of North Dakota awarded Erdrich an honorary doctorate, but she refused it because of her opposition to that university's North Dakota Fighting Sioux mascot.[13]
  • In June 2009, received an honorary doctorate (Doctor of Letters) from Dartmouth College upon giving the 2009 Graduation Commencement Address[14][15]



  • Jacklight. New York: Holt, 1984.
  • Baptism of Desire. New York: Harper, 1989.
  • Original Fire: New and selected poems. . New York: HarperCollins, 2003.


  • Love Medicine. New York: Holt, 1984
    • expanded edition, 1993.
  • The Beet Queen. New York: Holt, 1986.
  • Tracks. New York: Harper, 1988.
  • The Crown of Columbus(With husband, Michael Dorris). New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
  • The Bingo Palace. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
  • Tales of Burning Love. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
  • The Antelope Wife. New York: HarperFlamingo, 1998.
  • The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
  • The Master Butchers Singing Club. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.
  • Four Souls. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.
  • The Painted Drum. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
  • The Plague of Doves. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.

Short fictionEdit

  • The Red Convertible: Collected and new stories, 1978-2008, 2009.[16]


  • Imagination (textbook). New York: C.E. Merrill (New York, NY), 1980.
  • Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris (With Allan Richard Chavkin and Nancy Feyl Chavkin). Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1994.
  • The Falcon: A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner. New York: Penguin, 1994.
  • The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year (memoir). New York: HarperCollins, 1995.
  • Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country.Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2003.


  • Grandmother’s Pigeon (illustrated by Jim LaMarche). New York: Hyperion, 1996.
  • The Birchbark House (writer and illustrator). New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 1999.
  • The Game of Silence. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.
  • The Porcupine Year. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.


  • The Best American Short Stories, 1993 (edited, with Katrina Kenison). 1993.[16]

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[17]

Audio / videoEdit

Inspiration from Louise Erdrich poetry

Inspiration from Louise Erdrich poetry

Advice to Myself by Louise Erdrich

Advice to Myself by Louise Erdrich

  • Louise Erdrich: Reading "The beet queen" and "Love medicine" (exerpts). Columbia, MO: American Audio Prose Library, 1986.
  • Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris: Interview with Kay Bonetti (cassette). Columbia, MO: American Audio Prose Library, 1986.
  • Louise Erdrich. Kansas City, MO: New Letters, 1988.
  • Interview with Louise Erdrich, November 12, 1996. San Francisco: City Arts & Letters, 1996.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[18]

See alsoEdit



  1. "Louise Erdrich". Contemporary Authors Online. Gale. 2009. Retrieved November 21, 2009. 
  2. Birchbark Books website
  3. The Three Graces, Minneapolis Star Tribune, February 4, 2008,, retrieved September 23, 2010 
  4. "Faces of America: Louise Erdrich", PBS, Faces of America series, with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 2010.
  5. l "Michael Dorris", obituary in
  6. "Michael Dorris", New York Times obituary
  7. The controversy and fallout from this review, and some of its underlying themes, are reviewed in Susan Castillo's "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.
  8. 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]
  9. Lorena Laura Stookey, Louise Erdrich: A Critical Companion, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999 ISBN 0313306125, 9780313306129
  10. See, e.g., Powell's Books (book review), Christian Science Monitor, Monday, August 2nd, 2004
  11. World Fantasy Convention (2010). "Award Winners and Nominees". Retrieved 04 Feb 2011. 
  12. List of NWCA Lifetime Achievement Awards, accessed 6 August 2010.
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Louise Erdrich," Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Web, Sep. 9, 2012.
  17. Louise Erdrich b. 1954, Poetry Foundation, Web, Sep. 9, 2012.
  18. Search results = au:Louise Erdrich, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Sep. 23, 2015.

External linksEdit

Audio / video
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. (view article). (view authors).