Discussion Topics

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In each novel and most stories, Louise Erdrich links characters to the past as a way to offer solutions to present dilemmas. Choose a character, such as Father Damien in The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, and list three ways in which his past helped him cope with difficulties in his declining days. Choose an Indian character, such as Rozin in The Antelope Wife, and list three ways that the link to Indian history and myth help her face her contemporary life.

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Select a passage in which the landscape or wildlife takes on the role of a character in The Antelope Wife. What human characteristics does it exhibit?

Discuss how Nanapush displays the characteristics of the Ojibwe trickster rabbit in Tracks.

Other Literary Forms

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Louise Erdrich is perhaps best known for her novels, which include Love Medicine (1984), The Beet Queen (1986), and The Antelope Wife (1998). She is also the author of several collections of poetry and a number of children’s books.

Achievements

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Several of Louise Erdrich’s stories have appeared in the annual The Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards series. She received a Nelson Algren Fiction Award as well as a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1982, the Pushcart Prize and the National Magazine Award for Fiction in 1983, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1985, and a Western Literary Association Award in 1992. Her Love Medicine received the Virginia McCormack Scully Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times award for best novel, the Sue Kaufman Prize, the American Book Award and was named one of the best eleven books of 1985 by The New York Times Book Review.

Other literary forms

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In addition to long fiction, Louise Erdrich (UR-drihk) has published poetry, books for children, nonfiction, and short fiction. Many chapters in her novels were originally published as short stories in various periodicals. Her early books of poetry Jacklight (1984) and Baptism of Desire (1989) present vivid North Dakota vignettes as well as personal reflections on Erdrich’s relationships with her husband and children. Several of the poems in these volumes, together with nineteen new ones, are included in Original Fire: Selected and New Poems (2003). Erdrich’s memoir of her daughter’s birth, The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year, was published in 1995, and her travel memoir Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country appeared in 2003.

Achievements

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A poet and poetic novelist, Louise Erdrich learned to draw on her Ojibwa (also known as Chippewa) and German-immigrant heritage to create a wide-ranging chronicle of Native American and white experience in twentieth century North Dakota and Minnesota. She received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony in 1980 and from Dartmouth College and Yaddo Colony in 1981. Since she began to publish her fiction and poetry in the early 1980’s, her works have garnered high critical praise, and her novels have been best sellers as well.

Erdrich was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1982, the Pushcart Prize in 1983, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985-1986. Her first novel, Love Medicine, won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1984, and three stories that became chapters in that book were also honored: “The World’s Greatest Fishermen” won the 1982 Nelson Algren Fiction Award, “Scales” appeared in The Best American Short Stories 1983, and “Saint Marie” was chosen for Prize Stories 1985: The O. Henry Awards (1985). Two of the stories included in the novel Tracks also appeared in honorary anthologies: “Fleur” in Prize Stories 1987: The O. Henry Awards and “Snares” in The Best American Short Stories 1988. Erdrich’s 2001 novel The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse was a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction, and her children’s book The Game of Silence (2005) received the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.

Erdrich’s works often focus on the struggles of Native Americans for personal, familial, and cultural survival. Her treatment of white characters and of characters of mixed Native American and white blood, however, reveals an empathetic understanding of the ways in which people of all races long for closer connection with one another and the land.

Other literary forms

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Like many other American Indian writers, Louise Erdrich (UR-drihk) writes in various genres: short fiction, novels, memoirs, and children’s literature. She has published a series of novels exploring the lives of American Indians, usually of mixed heritage, from her own Chippewa tribe. Starting with Love Medicine (1984), Erdrich has created an imaginative territory that has been compared to William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. In addition to this “family” of novels, Erdrich coauthored, with her husband Michael Dorris, The Crown of Columbus (1991).

As the mother of six children, Erdrich developed an interest in children’s literature and has published books for children, including Grandmother’s Pigeon (1996) and The Game of Silence (2005). Her memoir, The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year (1995), is an account of her own pregnancy and the birth of one of her daughters.

Achievements

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Louise Erdrich’s major achievements have been in fiction. Early in her career, she was awarded first prize in the 1982 Nelson Algren fiction competition for “The World’s Greatest Fishermen.” This short story became a chapter in Love Medicine, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for best work of fiction in 1984, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction in 1985, and the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation in 1985. The Beet Queen (1986) won first prize at the 1987 O. Henry Awards, as well as a National Book Critics Circle Award nomination in 1986. Erdrich received the Minnesota Book Award four times, in 1997 for Tales of Burning Love (1996), in 2002 for The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (2001), in 2006 for The Painted Drum (2005), and in 2009 for The Plague of Doves (2008). The Antelope Wife (1998) won the World Fantasy Award for best novel in 1999, and The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse was nominated for a National Book Award in 2001. In 2005, Erdrich was named the associate poet laureate of North Dakota, but in 2007, she turned down an honorary doctorate from North Dakota University because she found the school’s mascot, the Fighting Sioux, to be offensive. Her children’s book The Game of Silence received the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 2006. In 2009, The Plague of Doves won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. That same year, Erdrich won the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement.

Erdrich has been awarded a number of fellowships, from The Johns Hopkins University (1978), MacDowell Colony (1980), Yaddo Colony (1981), Dartmouth College (1981), the National Endowment for the Arts (1982), and the Guggenheim Foundation (1985-1986).

Bibliography

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Bak, Hans. “Circles Blaze in Ordinary Days.” In Native American Women in Literature and Culture, edited by Susan Castillo and Victor M. P. Da Rosa. Porto, Portugal: Fernando Pessoa University Press, 1997. Bak writes an extensive analysis of the Jacklight poems and sees Erdrich’s first book of poetry as having a different appeal from Baptism of Desire. He terms that appeal its “hybrid” or “amphibious” quality in that Erdrich draws upon both aspects of her heritage, the German American and the Chippewa.

Beidler, Peter G., and Gay Barton. A Reader’s Guide to the Novels of Louise Erdrich. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. An informative handbook for students of Erdrich.

Brehm, Victoria. “The Metamorphoses of an Ojibwa Manido.” American Literature 68 (December, 1996): 677-706. This article traces the evolution of the legendary Ojibwa water monster Micipijiu (Misshepeshu), with a fascinating section on the symbolism and significance of the monster in Erdrich’s Love Medicine, Tracks, and The Bingo Palace.

Bruchac, Joseph. “Whatever Is Really Yours: An Interview with Louise Erdrich.” In Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1987. Erdrich discusses her poetry in particular but also her inspirations for her stories and her philosophy on what makes a good story. She explains how the characters and their stories are formed as well.

Chavkin, Allan, ed. The Chippewa Landscape of Louise Erdrich. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998. Collects original essays focusing on Erdrich’s writings that are rooted in the Chippewa experience. Premier scholars of Native American literature investigate narrative structure, signs of ethnicity, the notions of luck and chance in Erdrich’s narrative cosmology, and her use of comedy in exploring American Indians’ tragic past.

Chavkin, Allan, and Nancy Feyl, eds. Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994. This is a collection of twenty-five interviews with the couple and includes an interview with Joseph Bruchac.

Coltelli, Laura. Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990. Erdrich and Michael Dorris discuss their collaborations with each other, their stories, novels, and poems, and their views on American Indian literature. They explain how a number of Erdrich’s short stories are the genesis for her novels and how they create the connections between short and long fiction.

Davis, Rocío G. “Identity in Community in Ethnic Short Story Cycles: Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place.” In Ethnicity and the American Short Story, edited by Julia Brown. New York: Garland, 1997. Discusses how Erdrich’s Love Medicine is in fact a cycle of short stories. Suggests that each chapter is a story with a different narrator, but the narrators’ voices combine to present a communal protagonist. An interesting concept and a useful way of understanding the stories as they stand on their own.

Erdrich, Louise. Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris. Edited by Allan Chavkin and Nancy Feyl Chavkin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994. Erdrich discusses her work.

Ferguson, Suzanne. “The Short Stories of Louise Erdrich’s Novels.” Studies in Short Fiction 33 (1996): 541-555. An excellent discussion of four short stories—“Saint Marie,” “Scales,” “Fleur,” and “Snares”—and how they were modified when they became chapters in the novels. Ferguson also argues that alone the short stories should be read differently than when they are presented as chapters in a novel. This is a good article for clarifying the differences between the short stories and their counterpart chapters in the novels.

Hafen, Jane P. “Sacramental Language: Ritual in the Poetry of Louise Erdrich.” Great Plains Quarterly 16 (1996): 147-155. Hafen, a Taos Pueblo Indian, examines Erdrich’s books of poetry together. In them, she finds evidence of the oral culture and a blending of rituals from the Chippewa and European American religious traditions. Erdrich’s poetry reveals her individual voice and personal experience while at the same time connecting to the rituals of her mixed-blood heritage.

Ludlow, Jeannie. “Working (in) the In-Between: Poetry, Criticism, Interrogation, and Interruption.” Studies in American Indian Literature 6 (Spring, 1994): 24-42. Ludlow writes a sophisticated literary analysis of Joy Harjo’s “The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window” and Erdrich’s “Lady in the Pink Mustang” from Jacklight. She finds Erdrich’s poem potentially more empowering.

Rebein, Robert. Hicks, Tribes and Dirty Realists: American Fiction After Postmodernism. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001. An assertion that gritty realism has gained ascendancy over metafiction in American writing. Examines the works of Dorothy Allison, Annie Proux, Thomas McGuane, Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, and Louise Erdrich.

Smith, Jeanne Rosier. Writing Tricksters: Mythic Gambols in American Ethnic Literature. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. A thorough examination of ethnic trickster figures as they appear in the work of Erdrich, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Toni Morrison. Chapter 3 explores the trickster characteristics of Old Nanapush, Gerry Nanapush, Lipsha Morrissey, Fleur Pillager, and others.

Stone, Brad. “Scenes from a Marriage: Louise Erdrich’s New Novel—and Her Life.” Newsweek 131, no. 12 (March 23, 1998): 69. Discusses Erdrich’s The Antelope Wife and the suicide of her husband Michael Dorris.

Stookey, Lorena Laura. Louise Erdrich: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. A good study of Erdrich’s works. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Wong, Hertha Dawn. Louise Erdrich’s “Love Medicine”: A Casebook. London: Oxford University Press, 1999. Presents documents relating to the historical importance of Love Medicine, representative critical essays, and excerpts from several interviews with Erdrich and Michael Dorris.

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