Louise Erdrich Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

0111201210-Erdrich2.jpg(Michael Dorris) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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.

Early Life

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, she began to garner awards for her poetry and stories. After her graduation from Dartmouth she worked a variety of odd jobs, compiling a personal archive of experiences for use in her writing. While pursuing her M.A. at The Johns Hopkins University, which she earned in 1979, she composed many of the poems that would be collected in her first published book. Jacklight (1984) received critical praise, but it was her short stories, appearing in literary magazines, that produced a sense of anticipation among literary critics. “The World’s Greatest Fisherman,” set on the reservation and centering on the death of June Kashpaw, won first prize in the Nelson Algren fiction competition in 1982. Introducing the various members of the Kashpaw, Lamartine, and Nanapush families, this story became the starting place for a number of related novels reaching back in history as far as 1912.

Erdrich’s marriage to Michael Dorris in 1981 coincided with her burgeoning interest in her Chippewa heritage. Dorris, who had been a professor in the Native American studies program at Dartmouth, shared Erdrich’s writing ambitions and a similar ethnic background. He had previously adopted a son, whose struggle with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) led Dorris to write The Broken Cord (1989). Dorris adopted two more children; Erdrich adopted all three of Dorris’ children, and together Erdrich and Dorris produced three more. Until his death in 1997, Dorris and Erdrich collaborated on their writing and campaigned together against the increasing incidence of FAS

Life’s Work

When Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine first appeared in 1984, two of its stories had already been honored: “Scales,” which was anthologized in Best American Short Stories, 1983 (1983); and the 1982 Nelson Algren competition winner, “The World’s Greatest Fisherman.” “Saint Marie” was later selected for Prize Stories 1985: The O. Henry Awards (1985). Among the awards Erdrich received for Love Medicine are the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Award for Fiction. Erdrich was immediately hailed as an original and powerful talent, and her second novel, The Beet Queen (1986), confirmed her place among important contemporary authors.

Native American fiction began to rise with the cream of twentieth century American literature with the publication of N. Scott Momaday’s A House Made of Dawn (1969). Readers, primed perhaps by the Magical Realism of Gabriel García Márquez and the “boom” writers of Latin America, appeared ready for the transcendent storytelling of such writers as Leslie Marmon Silko, James Welch, Gerald Vizenor, and Sherman Alexie. Silko’s Ceremony (1977) and Almanac of the Dead (1991), and Vizenor’s Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles (1990; originally published as Darkness in Saint...

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Louise Erdrich Biography

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Louise Erdrich
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Introduction

Louise 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.

Essential Facts

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. Erdrich says that she revises all of her work extensively and sometimes uses old journals to get ideas for her writing.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.

Louise Erdrich Biography (Native Americans: A Comprehensive History)

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 Dartmouth, she began to garner awards for her poetry and stories. After her graduation from Dartmouth, she worked a variety of odd jobs, compiling a personal archive of experiences for use in her writing. While pursuing her master's degree at Johns Hopkins University, which she earned in 1979, she composed many of the poems that would be collected in her first published book. Jacklight (1984) received critical praise, but it was her short stories, appearing in literary magazines, that produced a sense of anticipation among literary critics. “The World's Greatest Fisherman,” set on the reservation and centering on the death of June Kashpaw, won first prize in the Nelson Algren fiction competition in 1982. Introducing the various members of the Kashpaw, Lamartine, and Nanapush families, this story became the starting place for a number of related novels reaching back in history as far as 1912.

Erdrich's marriage to Michael Dorris in 1981 coincided with her burgeoning interest in her Chippewa heritage. Dorris, the founder and director of the Native American Studies program at Dartmouth, shared Erdrich's writing ambitions and a similar ethnic background. He had previously adopted a son, whose struggle with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) led Dorris to write The Broken Cord (1989). Dorris had also adopted two more children; when they married, Erdrich adopted all three of Dorris's children, and together Erdrich and Dorris produced three more. In addition to rearing their large family, Erdrich and Dorris collaborated on all their writing during the 1980's and early 1990's and campaigned together against the increasing incidence of FAS. Dorris committed suicide in 1997; the couple had previously separated.

When Erdrich's Love Medicine first appeared in 1984, two of its stories had already been honored: “Scales,” which was anthologized in Best American Short Stories, 1983 (1983); and the 1982 Nelson Algren competition winner, “The World's...

(The entire section is 1409 words.)

Louise Erdrich Biography (Poetry for Students)

Erdrich was born Karen Louise Erdrich in Little Falls, Minnesota, in 1954, the eldest of seven children of German-born Ralph Erdrich and Rita...

(The entire section is 258 words.)

Louise Erdrich Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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...

(The entire section is 201 words.)

Louise Erdrich Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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....

(The entire section is 379 words.)

Louise Erdrich Biography (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

ph_0111201210-Erdrich2.jpgLouise Erdrich Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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...

(The entire section is 354 words.)

Louise Erdrich Biography (Poets and Poetry in America)

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...

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Louise Erdrich Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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...

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Louise Erdrich Biography (Short Stories for Students)

Born in 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota, Louise Erdrich was the eldest of seven children. Her mother, a Native American of the Chippewa...

(The entire section is 395 words.)

Louise Erdrich Biography (Novels for Students)

Louise Erdrich Published by Gale Cengage

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 Biography (Short Stories for Students)

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.

Louise Erdrich Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111204781-Erdrich.jpgLouise Erdrich Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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...

(The entire section is 959 words.)

Louise Erdrich Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

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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