Born in 1954 to an Ojibway-French mother and a German-American father, Louise Erdrich is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain band. From her parents, both teachers at a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school, she received early encouragement in her literary gift. Both sides of her family were rich with storytellers, and the confluence of her Ojibway and Euro-American heritages provides a double vision that informs her work. She entered Dartmouth University in 1972, the first year the school admitted women. It was in that same year that Dartmouth, whose original mission was to provide education to Indians, began their Native American Studies Program. The first director of the program was Michael Dorris, who later became Erdrich's husband and collaborative partner. After graduation in 1976, Erdrich completed a master's degree from Johns Hopkins University. By 1984, her literary career was off to an auspicious start with the publication of both a volume of poetry, Jacklight, and a novel, Love Medicine. Since that beginning, she has continued to publish regularly and has a growing body of respected work.
Erdrich's early recognition rests on her North Dakota tetralogy: Love Medicine, The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988), and The Bingo Palace (1994). These novels reveal the energies and exploits of a group of characters, both native and non-native, who dwell in and around Argus, North Dakota. Erdrich's 2002 novel The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse returns to the area and features a startling revelation concerning the androgynous Father Damien in Tracks.
Erdrich's work is characterized not only by the complicated webs of relationships across generations of the same families but also by the fluency of her narrative style, which features an admixture of literary and oral traditions and her luminous prose.