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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