Born and raised in Nevada, Louis is an enrolled member of the Lovelock Paiute Indian tribe. He was educated at Brown University, where he also went on to receive an M.A. in creative writing. A former journalist, he edited four tribal newspapers and was a founder of the Native American Press Association. Since 1984, he has taught English at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota, where he lives. Louis, who writes both poetry and fiction, is at the forefront of a new generation of Native American writers. Having abandoned the celebratory lyricism of some of his predecessors, he opts instead to tell harsh truths about both white and Indian cultures. Frank about alcoholism, frank about self-pity, he also displays an articulate bitterness about the humiliation and demoralization his people continue to suffer. His primary focus is not the past but the present life of American Indians, but it is a present at once redolent with history and destabilized by moments of magical revelation. Louis thereby discovers uncanny instances of transfiguration amidst loss and the ordinary routines of daily life. Like Sherman Alexie, his work mixes uncompromising social criticism with an unforgettable irony, but Louis is unique in turning that irony on himself as often as he turns it on the world around him.
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