Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: A poet and novelist of Chippewa and German descent, Erdrich has become one of the most important authors writing Native American fiction in the late twentieth century.
Louise Erdrich was born in Little Falls, Minnesota, across the Red River from Wahpeton, North Dakota, the small town that later served as a model for Erdrich’s fictional town of Argus. Her father, Ralph Erdrich, was a German immigrant; her mother, Rita Journeau Erdrich, was a three-quarters Chippewa. Both her parents were employed by the Wahpeton Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school. Louise grew up in Wahpeton, the oldest of seven children, and was exposed to the cultures of both her parents. Maintaining a close bond with her German Catholic grandmother, she was also on familiar ground with her extended Chippewa family on the Turtle Mountain reservation. Her maternal grandfather was a tribal chairman there, and the North Dakota plains reservation eventually became the setting for much of Louise’s fiction.
Erdrich later claimed that she had never given serious attention to her Native American background while growing up, had never thought about “what was Native American and what wasn’t.” In 1972, she entered Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and majored in creative writing. Her parents had encouraged her interest in writing since her childhood, binding her stories into homemade books. At Dartmouth,...
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IntroductionLouise Erdrich is one of America’s most celebrated Native American authors. Born in 1954, she grew up in North Dakota, where her parents were teachers at the Bureau of Indian affairs. However, while the author is most closely identified as a Native American, Erdrich is actually of mixed race: her father is German, and her mother is Ojibwa and French. Her writing often reflects the struggle to claim a distinct identity in her multicultural world. Frequently, Erdrich’s novels deal with the cyclical nature of time, an important concept to Native Americans. Her characters often include a “trickster,” a mischievous troublemaker who makes appearances in the folktales of old. Before her solo success, Erdrich collaborated with her husband on children’s books. Some of her best-known novels include Love Medicine, The Beet Queen, and The Antelope Wife.
- Erdrich comes from a long line of storytellers. In a 1991 interview in Writer’s Digest, she said, “The people in our families made everything into a story. They love to tell a good story. People just sit and the stories start coming, one after another.”
- Louise Erdrich was in the first coeducational class at Dartmouth College in 1972. While at Dartmouth, Erdrich met and married professor Michael Dorris. The two remained married for many years but divorced in 1997. Sadly, Dorris committed suicide the following year.
- Erdrich says that she revises all of her work extensively and sometimes uses old journals to get ideas for her writing.
- Two of Erdrich’s most ardent admirers are Toni Morrison and Philip Roth. Of the novel Love Medicine, Morrison said, “The beauty of Love Medicine saves us from being devastated by its power.” Philip Roth has said her work is filled with “originality, authority, tenderness, and pitiless wild wit.”
- Erdrich has won several O. Henry Awards for her short stories, and several have been selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories anthologies.
All Resources by Category
Critical Survey of Poetry
Critical Survey of Short Fiction
Louise Erdrich - Contemporary Literary Criticism
Louise Erdrich - Critical Survey of Long Fiction
Louise Erdrich - Poetry Criticism
Love Medicine - Contemporary Literary Criticism
The Antelope Wife Criticism
Baptism of Desire - Book Review
Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris
Four Souls - Book Review
Love Medicine - Book Review
Tales of Burning Love - Book Review
Tales of Burning Love - Book Review
The Antelope Wife - Book Review
The Beet Queen - Book Review
The Best American Short Stories 1993
The Bingo Palace - Book Review
The Bingo Palace - Book Review
The Crown of Columbus - Book Review
The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse - Book Review
Tracks - Book Review
Where I Ought to Be - Book Review
Bidwell Ghost Study Guide
Captivity - Masterplots II: Poetry
Fleur - Masterplots II: Short Story Series
Fleur Study Guide
Love Medicine - Masterplots II: American Fiction Series
Love Medicine - Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series
Love Medicine Study Guide (eNotes)
Saint Marie - Masterplots II: Short Story Series
Saint Marie quickNotes
Tales of Burning Love quickNotes
The Antelope Wife quickNotes
The Beet Queen - Masterplots II: American Fiction Series
The Beet Queen - Masterplots II: Short Story Series
The Beet Queen - Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series
The Beet Queen quickNotes
The Bingo Palace quickNotes
The Red Convertible - Masterplots II: Short Story Series
The Red Convertible Study Guide (eNotes)
Tracks - Masterplots II: American Fiction Series
Tracks - Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series
Biography (American Indians Ready Reference)
Article abstract: One of the most widely acclaimed Native American writers of fiction and poetry, Louise Erdrich tells of intertwining relationships and histories among an extended family of twentieth century Chippewas.
Louise Erdrich was born in Little Falls, Minnesota, across the Red River from Wahpeton, North Dakota, the small town that later served as a model for Erdrich's fictional town of Argus. Her father, Ralph Erdrich, was a German immigrant; her mother, Rita Journeau Erdrich, was a three-quarters Chippewa. Both her parents were employed by the Wahpeton Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school. Louise grew up in Wahpeton, the oldest of seven children, and was exposed to the cultures of both her parents. Maintaining a close bond with her German Roman Catholic grandmother, she was also on familiar ground with her extended Chippewa family on the Turtle Mountain reservation. Her maternal grandfather was a tribal chairman there, and the North Dakota plains reservation eventually became the setting for much of Erdrich's fiction.
Erdrich later claimed that she had never given serious attention to her Native American background while growing up, had never thought about “what was Native American and what wasn’t.” In 1972, she entered Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and majored in creative writing. Her parents had encouraged her interest in writing since her childhood, binding her stories into homemade books. At...
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Erdrich was born Karen Louise Erdrich in Little Falls, Minnesota, in 1954, the eldest of seven children of German-born Ralph Erdrich and Rita Gourneau Erdrich, a Chippewa. Both parents worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Erdrich grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, near the Turtle Mountain Chippewa reservation, where her maternal grandparents lived. The story-telling tra- ditions of her heritage stimulated her to write her own pieces, an activity encouraged by her parents. In 1972, Erdrich enrolled in Dartmouth College. There she met her future husband and literary collaborator, anthropologist Michael Dorris, who was the chair of the Native American Studies department. While in college, she worked at a wide variety of jobs, including beet weeder, psychiatric aide, lifeguard, waitress, poetry teacher at prisons, and construction flag-signaler. She also became an editor for the Circle, a Boston Indian Council newspaper. She enrolled in a graduate program at Johns Hopkins University in 1978, earning a master’s degree the following year and then returning to Dartmouth as a writer-in-residence. During this period, Erdrich began collaborating with Dorris, and one of their stories,“The World’s Greatest Fisherman,” was awarded first prize in Chicago magazine’s Nelson Algren Fiction Competition in 1982. Erdrich subsequently expanded this work into a novel, Love Medicine, which was published in 1984. That same year, she published...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Karen Louise Erdrich was born in Little Falls, Minnesota, on June 7, 1954, the first of seven children of a German father and Chippewa mother. A member of the first coeducational class at Dartmouth College in 1972, she received her B.A. in 1976. While teaching expository and creative writing on a fellowship at The Johns Hopkins University, she earned an M.A. from The Johns Hopkins Writing Program in 1979. In 1980 she was a textbook writer for the Charles Merrill Company, and a year later, she became a visiting fellow at Dartmouth. On October 10, 1981, she married the writer Michael Dorris.
In 1981, Louise Erdrich published her first short story, “The Red Convertible,” in Mississippi Valley Review. Over the next two years, she published such award-winning stories as “The World’s Greatest Fisherman” and “Scales.” In 1984, she published her first collection of poetry, Jacklight, as well as her first novel, Love Medicine. In 1991, she coauthored The Crown of Columbus with her husband.
Since 1981, Erdrich has been Writer-in-Residence at Dartmouth’s Native American Studies Program. Erdrich has said that the success of her works is due in great part to the collaboration of her husband. However, despite his death in 1997, Erdrich continued to write successful works of fiction.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Karen Louise Erdrich, whose grandfather was tribal chair of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Ojibwa Nation, grew up in Wahpeton, a small town in southeastern North Dakota. Both of her parents—Ralph Erdrich, the son of a German immigrant, and Rita Gourneau Erdrich, who is three-quarters OjibwA&Mdash;taught at the Wahpeton Indian Boarding School. Erdrich’s mixed religious and cultural background provided a rich foundation for her later poetry and fiction.
Erdrich earned two degrees in creative writing, a B.A. from Dartmouth College in 1976 and an M.A. from Johns Hopkins University in 1979. In 1981, she married Michael Dorris, a professor of anthropology and head of the Native American Studies Program at Dartmouth. Erdrich and Dorris devoted much of their married life to ambitious family, literary, and humanitarian goals. Dorris, who was three-eighths Modoc Indian, had previously adopted three Lakota Sioux children; together Erdrich and Dorris had three daughters. Professionally, they collaborated on virtually all the works that either one published—whether fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. Erdrich has thus acknowledged Dorris’s important contribution to her earlier fiction; similarly, she collaborated with him on his first novel, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water (1987), and on his study of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), The Broken Cord (1989). Erdrich and Dorris donated money and campaigned for legislation to combat FAS, which afflicts...
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Louise Erdrich’s identity as a mixed blood, the daughter of a Chippewa mother and a German American father, is at the heart of her writing. The oldest of seven children and the granddaughter of the tribal chair of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, she has stated that her family was typical of Native American families in its telling of stories, and that those stories became a part of her and are reflected in her own work. In her poetry and novels, she explores Native American ideas, ordeals and delights, with characters representing the European American and Native American sides of her heritage. Erdrich entered Dartmouth College in 1972, the year the Native American Studies Department was formed. The chair of that department was Michael Dorris, who later became her trusted literary collaborator and eventually her husband. Her work at Dartmouth was the beginning of a continuing exploration of her ancestry, the animating influence in her novels.
Erdrich frequently weaves stories in nonchronological patterns with multiple narrators. Her characters are multidimensional and entertaining while communicating the positives and negatives of Native American life in the twentieth century. Family relationships, community relationships, issues of assimilation, and the roles of tradition and religion are primary motifs in her novels. Tracks, The Beet...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Karen Louise Erdrich was born in Little Falls, Minnesota, the daughter of Ralph Louis, a German American teacher with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and Rita Joanne, her French and Chippewa mother, also a teacher in the BIA school. The first of seven children, Erdrich told author Joseph Bruchac she grew up “not thinking about [her mixed blood], everybody knowing you were a mixed-blood in town. You’d go to the [Turtle Mountain] reservation to visit sometimes and sometimes you’d go to your other family. It really was the kind of thing you just took for granted.” Erdrich’s parents fostered her creativity. In her interview with Bruchac, she said, “Both my mom and dad were encouraging. . . . I had that kind of childhood where I didn’t feel art was something strange.”
Erdrich grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, not far from Turtle Mountain reservation, where her grandfather Pat Tourneau had been tribal chairman. Erdrich moved away from Wahpeton to enter Dartmouth College in 1972, the first year it admitted women. At Dartmouth, Erdrich met her future husband and collaborator, Michael Dorris, the newly hired chair of the Native American Studies department. Between receiving her B.A. from Dartmouth and entering the Johns Hopkins University master’s degree program in 1978, Erdrich worked at a series of what she called “really crazy jobs,” among which were beet weeder, waitress, psychiatric aide, signaler for a construction gang, lifeguard,...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Louise Erdrich (UR-drihk) is recognized as one of the most talented novelists of her generation. The subject matter of her work—the life of American Indians from roughly the beginning of the twentieth century onward—has rarely been treated in contemporary literature, bringing added significance to Erdrich’s exceptional skill as a writer of fiction. She was born Karen Louise Erdrich in Little Falls, Minnesota, in 1954, and was reared near the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation in North Dakota. The reservation provides the setting for Love Medicine and for portions of her subsequent work. Her mother, a Chippewa, and her father, who was German-born, both worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Erdrich’s maternal grandparents lived on the reservation. She often visited them during her childhood.
Erdrich graduated from Dartmouth College, where she met her husband and collaborator, Michael Dorris. He, too, was part American Indian; he headed the Native American studies program at Dartmouth and became a published novelist and scholar of Native American studies. Each acknowledged the other as an active collaborator in the writing of their novels. Erdrich also earned a master’s degree in creative writing from The Johns Hopkins University.
Erdrich’s novels employ multiple points of view to tell their stories. Her first four...
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Born in 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota, Louise Erdrich was the eldest of seven children. Her mother, a Native American of the Chippewa tribe, was the daughter of Turtle Mountain Reservation Tribal Chairman Patrick Gourneau, and her father was of German descent. Both of her parents taught at the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school in Wahpeton, North Dakota, near the Turtle Mountain Reservation. Erdrich grew up in Wahpeton, and in 1972 she entered the first co-educational class of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, on scholarship.
The year Erdrich began at Dartmouth, her future husband and collaborator Michael Dorris was appointed head of the Native American studies department. Erdrich began to write short stories and poems and held a variety of minimum-wage jobs, and after graduation she taught in the North Dakota Arts Council’s Poetry in the Schools program. Erdrich earned a master’s degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University and then edited a Boston Indian Council newspaper before returning to Dartmouth as a writer-in-residence in 1981. Marrying Dorris shortly after she began to teach there, Erdrich became the mother of his three adopted children and had three more children with him. Dorris assisted Erdrich greatly in the writing and promotion of Love Medicine (1984); in fact, all of their works during the years of their marriage were collaborative efforts. After the success of her first novel, Erdrich received a Guggenheim...
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Erdrich was born on July 6, 1954, in Little Falls, Minnesota. One of seven children, Erdrich and her family later lived in Wahpeton, North Dakota, close to the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation. Her parents, Rita Joanne Gourneau Erdrich and Ralph Louis Erdrich, both taught at the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school. Erdrich's mother was born on the reservation, and Erdrich's grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, served as tribal chairman. Erdrich thinks highly of her grandfather, who keeps the old traditions alive within the context of modern culture and is respected in both cultures. While Erdrich says that none of her fiction is autobiographical, she does admit to picturing her grandfather's best traits through Nector Kashpaw in Love Medicine.
Erdrich entered Dartmouth College in 1972. That same year, Dartmouth established its Native American Studies department. Anthropologist Michael Dorris, Erdrich's future husband, chaired the department. As a student in his classes, she began to explore her Native American heritage. She and Dorris collaborated on a children's story which was published in an Indian magazine. At the same time, one of her other teachers encouraged her poetry writing. While she had several publications in Dartmouth literary magazines, Erdrich felt she had achieved true success when Ms. published one of her poems. Then, in 1975, the American Academy of Poets awarded her a prize. Feeling validated as a poet, Erdrich worked after graduation for the State Arts Council of North Dakota, teaching poetry in schools, prisons, and rehabilitation centers.
In addition to being a poetry teacher, Erdrich worked various jobs that have provided her with experiences she uses in her writing: as a waitress, lifeguard, construction worker, etc. As a specific example, Erdrich once weighed trucks on the interstate. In Love Medicine, Albertine and Dot weigh trucks for the state highway system. Through working at these jobs, Erdrich gained an understanding of and compassion for people of mixed blood. She felt compelled to write about them. In an interview with Michael Schumacher for Writer's Digest she says, “There were lots of people with mixed blood, lots of people who had their own confusions. I realized that this was part of my life—it wasn't something that I was making up—and that it was something I wanted to write about.”
Motivated to focus on her writing, Erdrich began her Master's program at Johns Hopkins University. When she graduated, Dartmouth College hired her as a writer-in-residence. While at Dartmouth, she and Dorris renewed their acquaintance. Then, she left for Boston to work on a textbook, and Dorris went to New Zealand to do research. They kept in touch by sharing their work with one another. When their story, “The World's Greatest Fisherman,” won five thousand dollars in the Nelson Algren fiction competition, the two decided to expand it into the novel, Love Medicine. Since the publication of her debut novel, she has published several other novels, poetry, and her memoir.
Louise Erdrich (birth name, Karen Louise Erdrich) was born on June 7 (some sources say July 6), 1954, in Little Falls, Minnesota. She was the first of seven children born to Ralph and Rita Joanne Gourneau Erdrich, both of whom taught for the Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. Erdrich was reared in Wahpeton, North Dakota, near the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation, where her mother's parents lived. The family visited the reservation often, giving Erdrich a strong sense of her Native-American heritage. Erdrich's father was of German descent, and this part of her heritage was also fostered, although to a lesser degree.
In 1972, Erdrich entered the first co-educational class at Dartmouth College. She graduated with a degree in English in 1976 and then taught for the Poetry in the Schools Program sponsored by the North Dakota Arts Council. In 1978, she entered Johns Hopkins University where she completed a master's degree in creative writing a year later.
While at Dartmouth, Erdrich studied with Michael Dorris, a writer who was also part Native American. Dorris was an anthropologist who chaired the then-new Native American Studies program. After Erdrich graduated, she and Dorris stayed in touch and became literary companions. In 1980, Erdrich returned to Dartmouth as a writer-in-residence, and a year later she married Dorris. In addition to the three Native-American children Dorris had already adopted, he and Erdrich eventually had three children of their own. Erdrich and Dorris enjoyed a great deal of success as literary collaborators until their separation in 1995. Two years later, Dorris committed suicide.
Erdrich's first novel, Love Medicine (1984), includes fourteen stand-alone chapters united by common characters, themes, and the setting—a Chippewa reservation in North Dakota. One of these stand-alone chapters is ‘‘The Red Convertible." Over the years, Erdrich has written numerous novels and collections of poetry. Her most recent works include the children's book the novel Grandmother's Pigeon (1996) and the novel The Antelope Wife (1998).
Erdrich is known for her insightful, moving, and sometimes amusing depictions of modern Chippewa life. Because so much of her work is set in North Dakota Chippewa communities, Erdrich is often compared to William Faulkner whose fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, provided the backdrop for his literary vision of the South. Erdrich is also compared to Faulkner because of her regional focus, imagery, and fragmented narrative style.
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Although born in Minnesota, Louise Erdrich grew up in Wahpeton, a small town in southeastern North Dakota, just across the Red River from her native state. Her father, Ralph Erdrich, was a German immigrant who taught in the Wahpeton Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school. Her mother, Rita Journeau Erdrich, a three-quarters Chippewa Indian, also worked at the school. Erdrich was the oldest of seven children. Her parents encouraged Louise’s interest in writing by paying her a nickel for each of her stories and binding them in homemade book form.
Erdrich’s mixed religious and cultural background provided a rich foundation for her poetry and fiction. Along with the Indian boarding school, there were two convents in Wahpeton, and Erdrich commented in 1985 and 1986 interviews that she had a “gothic-Catholic childhood,” including a close relationship with her paternal grandmother, who embraced “a dark, very Catholic kind of mysticism.” Erdrich also paid frequent visits to her Chippewa relatives on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in north-central North Dakota. Her maternal grandfather served as tribal chairman, and he participated in both traditional Chippewa religion and Roman Catholicism.
In 1972, Erdrich enrolled at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, arriving on the same day that Michael Dorris, her future husband, came to campus...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
If Erdrich had been born two hundred years earlier, she might have been a traditional Chippewa storyteller whose tales reminded her listeners of their unchanging relationship to the land and to the mythic and legendary characters that inhabited it. Several generations removed from such a stable and undamaged culture, Erdrich creates a richly neotribal view of people and place. Erdrich’s poetry and fiction show the profound interrelatedness of her characters—Indian and white—with contemporaries and ancestors, one another and their North Dakota homeland.
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