Louise Erdrich 1954–
American novelist, short story writer, poet, memoirist, children's fiction writer, and juvenile fiction writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Erdrich's career through 1996. See also, Love Medicine Criticism.
In her fiction and poetry, Erdrich draws upon her Chippewa heritage to examine complex familial and sexual relationships among midwestern Native Americans and their conflicts with white communities. Her eccentric characters attain mythic stature as they struggle to overcome isolation, abandonment, and exploitation. Jean Strouse has observed of Erdrich: "Her sure sense of the way people think and talk keeps it hard to remember she is making them all up, and her lithe, athletic prose makes wildly improbable events seem as natural as the weather."
Erdrich was born in Little Falls, Minnesota, in 1954. Both of her parents, Ralph and Rita Erdrich, worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Erdrich received her Bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College in 1976 and her Master's degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1977. In 1981 Erdrich married Michael Dorris, with whom she had six children (one of whom, Reynold Abel, died in 1991). A writer himself, Dorris frequently worked with Erdrich in developing stories until his death in 1997, and the two cowrote a novel, The Crown of Columbus (1991). Erdrich has taught poetry with the North Dakota State Arts Council and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University and has been a visiting fellow at Dartmouth College. Her fiction has garnered a Nelson Algren Award, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and a Los Angeles Times Book Award.
Erdrich's first published volume, Jacklight (1984), is a collection of poems that garnered praise for infusing everyday situations with mythic qualities. Her first novel, Love Medicine (1984), for which she won the National Book Critics Circle Award, gathers fourteen interconnected stories related by seven different members of the Kashpaw and Lamartine families of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa community in North Dakota. In The Beet Queen (1986) Erdrich continued her portrait of Turtle Mountain Chippewa but shifted her focus to the community outside the reservation. In Tracks (1988) a Chippewa elder and an abusive young female of white and Indian heritage relate the exploits of Fleur Pillager, a destructive yet magical woman who is an ancestor of several characters from Love Medicine. Characters from the first three novels recur in The Bingo Palace (1994) and Tales of Burning Love (1996), which again use multiple narrators and elements of magical realism to tell the stories of those living on and around the Turtle Mountain reservation. In 1993 Erdrich published an expanded edition of Love Medicine, adding different perspectives on the original story and dealing with different members of the families and those surrounding them. In The Crown of Columbus (1991) Erdrich and her husband Michael Dorris discuss historical inaccuracies in the story of Christopher Columbus and the impact of these inaccuracies on native peoples. In The Blue Jay's Dance (1995) Erdrich covered more personal ground, writing about the effect of motherhood on her work and her relation to the world around her.
While some critics find Erdrich's use of multiple narrators and her return to the same characters in different novels to be unnecessarily confusing and her use of mythic allusions and elements of magical realism to be contrived, most applaud her unflinching portrayal of contemporary Native American life. Many commentators note that the large number of influential Indian women in her fiction and her exploration of the disparities between institutional and indigenous history cements her as one of the most important voices in contemporary Native American literature.