Louise Erdrich Additional 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...

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(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...

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(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 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.


(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. 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 the lives of many Native American children born to alcoholic mothers.

Unfortunately, their private lives became difficult. All of their adopted children were permanently affected by the alcoholism of their mothers and led troubled lives as adults. One son attempted to extort money from Dorris and Erdrich, and their daughter became estranged from them. Their oldest adopted child, Abel (renamed Adam in The Broken Cord), was struck by a car and killed in 1991, an event that deeply affected the marriage.

Erdrich and Dorris eventually moved from New Hampshire to Minneapolis and later separated after fifteen years of marriage. During subsequent divorce proceedings, Dorris, who had been profoundly depressed since the second year of their marriage, attempted suicide twice. He succeeded on April 11, 1997.

In 2000, Erdrich established Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis; she gave birth to another daughter the following year. She continues to incorporate her study of the Ojibwa language and culture into her writing.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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 Queen, Love Medicine, and The Bingo Palace form a quartet that follows four families living in North Dakota between the early 1930’s and the late 1980’s, exploring the relationships among themselves and within the larger cultures. The novel Crown of Columbus, written with coauthor Michael Dorris, explores many of the same ideas and is a literary adventure story. In these novels about the search for identity, some of her characters are hopelessly caught between worlds, but most of her characters battle the hurt caused by mixed identities with humor, tenacity, and a will to construct their own sense of identity.

The result is some of the most accomplished and popular ethnic fiction available. The excellence of her work has earned for her numerous awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1984, and each of her five novels has achieved The New York Times best-seller list.


(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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(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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(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...

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(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...

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(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...

(The entire section is 378 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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...

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(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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