The eldest of seven children, Louise Erdrich was born in Little Falls, Minnesota on July 6, 1954. She grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota where her parents taught at the Bureau of Indian Affairs school. At an early age Erdrich was encouraged by her parents to write stories. Her father paid her a nickel a story and her mother made covers for her first books. In high school, Erdrich continued her writing by keeping a journal.
In 1972, Erdrich was among the first women admitted to Dartmouth College. She majored in English and creative writing, and took courses in the Native American Studies program headed by her future husband, Michael Dorris. She graduated in 1976.
In 1979, Erdrich earned her Master of Arts degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University. For her thesis Erdrich wrote poetry that would later be published in the collection Jacklight. She also began writing her novel Tracks. After John Hopkins, Erdrich worked at The Circle, the Boston Indian Council Newspaper.
Erdrich met Michael Dorris again when she was invited to return to Dartmouth to read her work. The two exchanged addresses and began a lengthy correspondence while he was in New Zealand and she in New Hampshire. In 1981 Erdrich returned to Dartmouth as a writer-in-residence in the Native American Studies Program. Dorris returned to Dartmouth that same year and the two were married in October of 1981.
Erdrich's marriage to Dorris began not only a domestic partnership but also a literary one. Dorris became a collaborator and agent for Erdrich. The two first wrote romantic fiction under the name Milou North to earn extra money. Milou was a combination of their first names, and north referred to their location. They also collaborated on Erdrich's other novels for which Dorris offered editorial suggestions on Erdrich's writing. Only two works, however, contain both Erdrich's and Dorris's names, The Crown of Columbus and Route Two, a collection of travel essays.
As Erdrich's agent, Dorris persuaded Henry Holt and Company to publish Jacklight and convinced Erdrich to compete for the Nelson Algren Fiction Award. Erdrich won this $5,000 award in 1982 with "The World's Greatest Fisherman." This story later became the opening chapter for Love Medicine.
Dorris had adopted three children when he was single. Erdrich also adopted them and the couple had three more children together. In 1991, their oldest child was killed in a car accident. Additional family problems put a strain on the marriage and the two separated after fifteen years of marriage. In 1997, Dorris committed suicide. Later Erdrich revealed that her husband had been depressed and suicidal during their marriage. Erdrich moved to Minneapolis, only a few hours away from her parents in North Dakota.
Erdrich's fiction is influenced both by her heritage and her life experiences. Her father's parents ran a butcher shop. Jacklight contains a section of poems entitled "The Butcher's Wife." A butcher shop is also featured in her novels The Beet Queen and Tracks. After college one of her many jobs was waitressing. Waitresses appear in several of her works.
Love Medicine is Erdrich's first and most critically acclaimed novel. It was originally published in 1984 and republished in an expanded form in 1993. Erdrich received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Fiction for Love Medicine. It is the first of a series of novels that are interconnected with one another. The other novels are The Beet Queen, Tracks, The Bingo Palace, Tales of Burning Love, and to a much lesser degree The Antelope Wife.
Erdrich has also won the Pushcart Prize in Poetry, the O. Henry Prize for short fiction, the Western Literary Association Award, received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and several of her stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories series. Erdrich's short fiction has also appeared in the New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, and Paris Review. She is one of few American Indian writers who are widely read.
Works by Louise Erdrich
Imagination (textbook), C. E. Merrill, 1981.
Jacklight, New York: Holt, 1984.
Love Medicine, Holt, 1984, expanded edition, 1993
The Beet Queen, Holt, 1986.
Tracks, New York: HarperCollins, 1998.
Baptism of Desire, Harper, 1989.
Route Two, Lord John Press, 1990.
(With Michael Dorris) The Crown of Columbus, HarperCollins, 1991.
The Bingo Palace, HarperCollins, 1994.
The Falcon: A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner, Penguin (New York City), 1994.
The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year (memoir), HarperCollins, 1995.
Tales of Burning Love, HarperCollins, 1996.
Grandmother's Pigeon (children's book), illustrated by Jim LaMarche, Hyperion (New York City), 1996.
The Antelope Wife, HarperCollins, 1998.
"Where I Ought to Be: A Writer's Sense of Place," New York Times Book Review, July 28 1985, 1, 23-24;
"Big Grass," in Heart of the Land, edited by Joseph Barbato and Christina Weinerman. New York: Pantheon Books, 1994, pp. 145-50.
Bibliography information taken from:
Jones, Daniel, and John D. Jorgenson, eds. Contemporary Authors. Vol. 62, New Revision Series. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1998, pp. 162-69.
Rosenberg, Ruth. "Louise Erdrich." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 152, American Novelists Since World War II, Fourth Series, edited by James R. Giles and Wanda H. Giles. A Bruccoli Layman Book, Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1995, pp. 42-50.
Critical Annotated Bibliography about Louise Erdrich's Work Books
- Beidler, Peter G., and Barton, Gary. A Reader's Guide to the Novels of Louise Erdrich. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999.
The authors' purpose in this book "is to offer a guide to Louise Erdrich's world, bringing information from all six novels together in one place." The six novels are Love Medicine (1984, 1993), The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988), The Bingo Palace (1994), Tales of Burning Love (1996), and The Antelope Wife (1998). This book claims to be targeted towards both first time readers and advanced scholars. It provides some very brief biographical information then gets into the geography, genealogy, and chronology of each of the novels. The book also contains a combined dictionary of characters. The geography, genealogy, and chronology section of the book is helpful in following the plot and characters. Included in this section is a brief description of each novel including how it relates to some of the other novels, a chronology of events by year, and excellent diagrams of the separate families. The dictionary of characters, however, may be confusing to the reader who has not read more than one novel. For the reader who has read all six novels the dictionary provides sometimes brief sometimes more extensive descriptions of 650 of Erdrich's characters. Another problem with this book is that it can lead to a fixed impression of Erdrich's works. It should not be used as a substitute to reading Erdrich's novels, but only as a supplement to them.
- Bruchac, Joseph, ed. "Whatever is Really Yours." In Survival this Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets. Sun Tracks: An American Indian Literary Series 15. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1987, pp. 75-86.
In this brief interview Erdrich describes different aspects of her poetry and fiction, and the way in which the people in her life and her heritage influence her poetry. She also articulates her feelings towards being on Indian land. Bruchac also includes Erdrich's poem, "Indian Boarding School: The Runaways."
- Chavkin, Allan, and Nancy Feyl Chavkin, eds. Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993.
This book contains twenty-five interviews with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris that impart glimpses into both their work and their personal lives. Through the interview process Erdrich and Dorris describe their collaboration process from beginning to end.
- Stookey, Louise. Louise Erdrich A Critical Companion. Greenwood Press: Westport, 1999.
Stookey's biography explores the effect of Erdrich's past and ethnicity on her work and provides a broad overview of Erdrich's writing style and central themes. The book is then separated into six sections, each one on a different Erdrich novel. As she writes about each novel, Stookey first gives a brief review including how it may relate to Erdrich's other novels, then explores the plot, characters, and themes. Also included is a brief alternative criticism to each novel. This is an excellent piece for two reasons. First it explores Erdrich's life and novels and the connections between them. Second, it is divided into sections that can stand on their own and are easily navigated, so the reader can find the information he/she needs quickly.
- Wong, Hertha D. Sweet, ed. Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine A Casebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
This casebook is designed to make available to the reader essays and criticisms of Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine that may not be otherwise easily accessible. The articles contained in the book are divided into four sections exploring different themes of the novel. In exploring a sense of place one piece to note is "The Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota" by Julie Maristuen-Rodakowski. It discusses the influence of the history of the Chippewa Indians of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in both Love Medicine and The Beet Queen. There is also an essay by Erdrich ("Where I Ought to Be") included in this casebook that explores her ideas on how a sense of place affects a writer's work. Also included are excerpts from interviews with Erdrich and Michael Dorris where they discuss Erdrich's ethnicity and its ties to her work.
- Catt, Catherine M. "Ancient Myth in Modern America: The Trickster in the Fiction Of Louise Erdrich." Platte Valley Review 19.1 (Winter 1991): 71-81.
The first few paragraphs of this article explore how place influences Erdrich's work. The remainder present an interesting history of the Trickster figure in Native American culture and how Erdrich uses this character in her novels.
- Hafen, Jane P. "Louise Erdrich." In Concise Dictionary of Literary Biography, Supplement: Modern Writers 1900-1998, edited by Tracy S. Bitonti. Detroit: Bruccoli, Clark, Layman Inc., 1998, pp. 44-55.
Hafen relates some biographical information about Erdrich including her life with Michael Dorris. She also discusses Erdrich's novels and poetry and some of the critical responses to them.
- Jones, Daniel, and John D. Jorgenson, eds. Contemporary Authors. Vol. 62, New Revision Series. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1998, pp. 162-69.
This piece contains bibliographical information on both Erdrich's writings and biographical and critical sources. It also discusses Erdrich's works and the critical reception to them.
- Moritz, Charles, ed. Current Biography Yearbook. New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 1989, pp.162-66.
This piece gives biographical information about Erdrich including some fact about her heritage and youth, but mainly focuses on her literary career. Also included is commentary about the critical responses to Erdrich's work.
- Rosenberg, Ruth. "Louise Erdrich." In Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 152, American Novelists Since World War II, Fourth Series, edited by James R. Giles and Wanda H. Giles. A Bruccoli Layman Book. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1995, pp. 42-50.
This piece provides bibliographical information both on Erdrich's own writing and writing about her works. It describes her career, including her collaboration with Michael Dorris. It also gives information on the publication and critical response to her works. This is a good selection about Erdrich and her books.
- Towery, Margie. "Continuity and Connection: Characters in Louise Erdrich's Fiction." American Indian Culture and Research Journal 16.4 (1992): 99-122.
Towery explores the connections between Erdrich's novels Tracks, The Beet Queen, and Love Medicine, and two short stories "The Island" and "The Bingo Van." The three main connections she explores are destruction, survival, and continuity. This essay is helpful in exploring the symbolic and familial connections between the characters. Also included is a genealogy chart, a listing of the characters' appearances in the pieces, and a chronology of events.
- Woodward, Pauline Groetz. "Louise Erdrich." In American Writers Supplement IV Part I, edited by A. Walton Litz and Molly Weigel. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1996, pp. 259-78.
This piece is a critical review of Erdrich's works focusing on the connections in her novels. It also contains a bibliography, critical studies, interviews, and Chippewa studies.