Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich is an author of fiction books, short stories and poetry notable for presenting Native American themes and cultural heritage. Her literary work focuses on the experiences of Native Americans in different historic, geographical and social settings. She is regarded as probably the most important contemporary fiction writer focusing on the subject. She is a recipient of numerous awards including a Pulitzer nomination, enjoying popularity and devotion among her readers and a great critical reception of her works.

The biography of Louise Erdrich reflects the focus of her fiction. As restated in Gay Barton's A Reader's Guide to the Novels of Louise Erdrich she was born in Minnesota on 7 June 1954, in a mixed family of a German father and a Chippewa Native American mother. As a child she lived in Wahpeton, North Dakota, which was the place of residence of her native tribe, the Chippewa Turtle Mountain Band. At that time her parents held teaching positions in the local Bureau of Indian Affairs. Her parents' early encouragement was instrumental in her taking up writing short stories at a young age.

Barton notes that Erdrich earned her college education in Dartmouth College, where she was enrolled in 1972. There she met her future husband Michael Dorris, also of mixed Native American descent, who worked as an assistant professor in anthropology. After Erdrich and Dorris were married, he became a great influence on her writing career, coauthoring two of her books and also fathering three of her four children, in addition to the three children they had adopted. During the 1980s and early 1990s Erdrich and Dorris were regarded as a high-profile Native American couple with recurrent appearances and interviews in the press. Personal tragedy hit Erdrich's family when after a breakdown of their marriage, Dorris took his own life in 1997. Erdrich later gave birth to another child.

The tumultuous biography and great parenting responsibilities of Louise Erdrich did not prevent her from making her mark as a very prolific writer, dabbling into a variety of literary forms. She has published more than a dozen novels, among which are the noteworthy Love Medicine (1984); Tracks (1988), The Bingo Palace (1994)), The Antelope Wife (1998), The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003) and the Plague of Doves (2008). She has also published numerous self-illustrated children's books, poetry and short-story collections, non-fiction narratives and essays. According to Barton it is her novels and her short-stories, which regularly appear in the New Yorker and other esteemed magazines that set her apart as a writer.

Erdrich explores themes that center on the stark realities and moral complexities of the lives of Native Americans. Most of her works are set during the span of the 20th century. Critic Gay Barton reflects that her fiction has a "sometimes bewildering" quality, owing to the "depth of characterization and narrative scope" of her style. Barton admits this may sometimes lead inattentive readers to confusion in an often tangled web of interconnected characters. William Faulkner is an American classic that Erdrich is most often compared to and is one of her writing influences.

Another of Erdrich's literary critics, Lorena Stookey identifies the origin of Erdrich's style as the "narrative poem", which has heavily influenced her later prose work such as short stories and novels. Regarding the narrative and plot complexity, Stookey explains that "Erdrich's plots, comprised of multiple, interconnected stories, do not necessarily unfold through a chronologically linear progression but rather serve as the threads whereby characters' stories are woven together". It is this technique of weaving together stories that has earned Louise Erdrich praise since the publication of her first novel Love Medicine, which at the time was difficult to classify into a particular genre by literary critics.

Stookey also comments on the emotional character Erdrich's works, which for the most part portray the complex identities and difficult livelihoods of modern Native Americans. To the critic, "Erdrich's fiction calls for both laughter and tears, for although she is essentially a comic writer, one who repeatedly affirms a human will to survive, she does not overlook a bleaker vision of human existence." In fact, while characters in Erdrich's novels often do not ultimately survive, she is able to preserve a lighter mood by interspersing "tragic episodes depicted in her work with instances of humor."

As Stookey aptly summarizes, "while the complexity of Erdrich's fiction admittedly makes demands upon her readers, it also offers rich reward." She challenges the readers to "arrive at new understandings of meaning encoded in different cultures."

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Louise Erdrich: A Critical Companion
Lorena L. Stookey.
Greenwood Press, 1999
A Reader's Guide to the Novels of Louise Erdrich
Peter G. Beidler; Gay Barton.
University of Missouri Press, 2006
The Chippewa Landscape of Louise Erdrich
Allan Chavkin.
University of Alabama Press, 1999
The Complicated Life of Louise Erdrich
Olson, Karen.
Book, May 2001
Louise Erdrich. (the Progressive Interview)
Rolo, Mark Anthony.
The Progressive, Vol. 66, No. 4, April 2002
The Stories We Tell: Louise Erdrich's Identity Narratives
Reid, E. Shelley.
MELUS, Fall-Winter 2000
The Old Lady Trill, the Victory Yell: The Power of Women in Native American Literature
Patrice E. M. Hollrah.
Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "'Women Are Strong, Strong, Terribly Strong:' Female Intellectual Sovereignty in the Works of Louise Erdrich"
Transatlantic Voices: Interpretations of Native North American Literatures
Elvira Pulitano.
University of Nebraska Press, 2007
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 “'June Walked over It like Water and Came Home': Cross-Cultural Symbolism in Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine and Tracks"
Storytelling, Melancholia, and Narrative Structure in Louise Erdrich's the Painted Drum
Wyatt, Jean.
MELUS, Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring 2011
Demythologizing the Romance of Conquest
Jeanne Armstrong.
Greenwood Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Tracks"
Tongue-Tied: Rhetoric and Relation in Louise Erdrich's Tracks
Hughes, Sheila Hassell.
MELUS, Fall-Winter 2000
Ceremonial Healing and the Multiple Narrative Tradition in Louise Erdrich's Tales of Burning Love
Rosenberg, Roberta.
MELUS, Vol. 27, No. 3, Fall 2002
What about the Sweetheart?: The "Different Shape" of Anishinabe Two Sisters Stories in Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine and Tales of Burning Love
Stokes, Karah.
MELUS, Vol. 24, No. 2, Summer 1999
This Giving Birth: Pregnancy and Childbirth in American Women's Writing
Julie Tharp; Susan Maccallum-Whitcomb.
Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "'Into the Birth House' with Louise Erdrich"
American Indian Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Contemporary Issues
Dane Morrison.
Peter Lang, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 15 "Building on the Myth: Recovering Native American Culture in Louise Erdrich's The Bingo Palace"
Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak
Laura Coltelli.
University of Nebraska Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: "Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris" begins on p. 41
Search for more books and articles on Louise Erdrich