Louise Erdrich Biography

Start Your Free Trial

Louise Erdrich Biography

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. Erdrich's 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 many Native Americans. Her characters often include a “trickster,” a mischievous troublemaker who makes appearances in native folktales. 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.

Facts and Trivia

  • 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.”
  • 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.
  • Erdrich says that she revises all of her work extensively and sometimes uses old journals to get ideas for her writing.
  • 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.”
  • 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.


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Download Louise Erdrich Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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...

(The entire section is 3,299 words.)