Skip to main content

Although first published as a poet, Louise Erdrich considers herself a storyteller: "I began to tell stories in the poems and then realized that there was not enough room . . . But I think in the book you try to make the language do some of the same things, metaphysically and sensuously, physically, that poetry can do (Winged Words, 1990). Erdrich’s fiction has been critically acclaimed for its lyrical prose anf humor, beginning with Love Medicine (1984), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan credits Erdrich with pointing Native-American writing in a new direction by "telling the plain stories of people and their lives without pity, judgment, opinion or romanticization" (This Is About Vision, ed. William Balassi, et al., 1990).

Erdrich was raised in North Dakota, where her parents worked for the Wahpeton Indian School. Her morhter encouraged her to enter the first coeducational class at Dartmouth College in 1972 through the Native American Studies program, where she met her future husband and collaborator, Michael Dorris the program’s director. After graduation, she returned to North Dakota and held a variety of jobs, including Poet in the Schools. In 1979, she earned a master’s degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, and became a writer in residence at Dartmouth, marrying Dorris in 1981.

In 1982, Erdrich won the Nelson Algren fiction competition with the story "The World's Greatest Fisherman," which became the first chapter of Love Medicine, the first novel in a tetralogy that includes The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988), and Bingo Palace (1994). Each of the novels interweaves self-contained short stories told by different narrators and chronicles three generations of Native-American and European-immigrant families in a fictionalized region of North Dakota from 1912 to the present. Cyclical in structure, the novels move toward resolution through discovery of individual identity in relation to "people in a small community who have to get along with each other over time and who know all of each other's stories" ("An Interview with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris," Missouri Review 11, 1988).

Erdrich's first book of poetry, Jacklight, was published in 1984, and was followed by a second collection, Baptism of Fire, in 1989. Although Erdrich and Dorris always write collaboratively, The Crown of Columbus (1991) was the first work to be published under both their names. Erdich's work has appeared in such periodicals as Ms., the New Yorker, and Harper's, among others, as well as in numerous anthologies, including That's What She Said (1984) and Spider Woman's Granddaughters (1989). She and Dorris live in New Hampshire with their five children.

See--Jan George, "Interview with Louise Erdrich," North Dakota Quarterly 53 (1985): 240-246. Hertha D. Wong, "An Interview with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris," North Dakota Quarterly (1987): 196-218. Kay Bonetti, "An Interview with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris," Missouri Review 11 (1988): 79-99. Louise Erdrich, "Conversions," in Day In, Day Out: Women's Lives in North Dakota, ed. Elizabeth Hampsten (1989), pp. 23-27. Laura Coltelli, ed., Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak (1990).