A Reader's Guide to the Novels of Louise Erdrich

A Reader's Guide to the Novels of Louise Erdrich

A Reader's Guide to the Novels of Louise Erdrich

A Reader's Guide to the Novels of Louise Erdrich

Excerpt

Louise Erdrich is one of the most important Native American writers of the past twenty years and one of the most accomplished and promising novelists of any heritage now working in the United States. Her fiction has won many awards and has attracted a devoted readership among lay as well as academic readers.

The daughter of Chippewa (Ojibwe) and German parents, Erdrich was born on June 7, 1954, in Minnesota. She is related through her Chippewa/French mother to Kaishpau Gourneau, who in 1882 became the head of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. An enrolled member of the North Dakota Turtle Mountain Chippewas, Erdrich spent much of her youth in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her parents taught at a Bureau of Indian Affairs school. Her mother and father encouraged her, even as a small child, to write stories.

In 1972 Erdrich entered Dartmouth College, where she met Michael Dorris, a mixed-blood of Modoc descent, who had just become an assistant

1. The terms Chippewa and Ojibwe (also spelled Ojibway and Ojibwa) are virtually inter
changeable. Both are European renderings of a native word, sometimes transcribed as Otchipwe,
about whose meaning scholars disagree (see Gerald Vizenor, The People Named the Chippewa
"Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984", 17–19). In his A Dictionary of the Otchipwe Language (Cincinnati: Hemann, 1853; facsimile, 1970), the nineteenth-century missionary and
lexicographer Frederic Baraga rendered the word as "Chippewa." Twentieth-century anthro
pologists have preferred some form of "Ojibwa" (see Victoria Brehm, "The Metamorphoses
of an Ojibwa Manido," 699n1). The term by which this people has traditionally referred to
itself is Anishinabe (or Anishinaabe, "person"; plural, Anishinaabeg). (This and subsequent Ojibwe
definitions are from either John D. Nichols and Earl Nyholm, A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe "Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995", or Basil Johnston, Ojibway Language Lexicon for Beginners "Ottawa: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 1978".)

In modern times, different bands of the Anishinaabeg have often adopted either the name
Chippewa or Ojibwa. In her interviews, Erdrich uses both words but tends to refer to her own
family heritage as Chippewa. This is also the term used most often in her first five novels. The
narrators of The Antelope Wife, set primarily in Minneapolis, favor the word Ojibwa. In more
recent novels, however, Erdrich fairly consistently uses the spelling Ojibwe, and in doing so
follows the majority of contemporary writers and linguists. We have in this volume used the
latter spelling except where we are citing a title or quotation that gives a different spelling.

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