Literary Zone

2021 Pulitzer prize winner Louise Erdrich

2 December 2021 at 21:47 | 2179 views

Louise Erdrich born Karen Louise Erdrich, June 7, 1954) is an American author of novels, poetry, and children’s books featuring Native American characters and settings. She is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, a federally recognized tribe of the Anishinaabe (also known as Ojibwe and Chippewa).

Erdrich is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant writers of the second wave of the Native American Renaissance. She has written 28 books in all, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and children’s books. In 2009, her novel The Plague of Doves was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and received an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. In November 2012, she received the National Book Award for Fiction for her novel The Round House. She is a 2013 recipient of the Alex Awards. She was awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction at the National Book Festival in September 2015. In 2021, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel The Night Watchman.

She was married to author Michael Dorris and the two collaborated on a number of works. The couple separated in 1995.

She is also the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis that focuses on Native American literature and the Native community in the Twin Cities.

Personal life
Erdrich was born on June 7, 1954, in Little Falls, Minnesota. She was the oldest of seven children born to Ralph Erdrich, a German-American, and Rita (née Gourneau), a Chippewa woman (of half Ojibwe and half French blood). Both parents taught at a boarding school in Wahpeton, North Dakota, set up by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Erdrich’s maternal grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, served as tribal chairman for the federally recognized tribe of Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians for many years. Though not raised in a reservation, she often visited relatives there. She was raised "with all the accepted truths" of Catholicism.

While Erdrich was a child, her father paid her a nickel for every story she wrote. Her sister Heidi became a poet and also lives in Minnesota; she publishes under the name Heid E. Erdrich. Another sister, Lise Erdrich, has written children’s books and collections of fiction and essays.

Erdrich attended Dartmouth College from 1972 to 1976. She was a part of the first class of women admitted to the college and earned an A.B. in English. During her first year, Erdrich met Michael Dorris, an anthropologist, writer, and then-director of the new Native American Studies program. While attending Dorris’ class, she began to look into her own ancestry, which inspired her to draw from it for her literary work, such as poems, short stories, and novels. During that time, she worked as a lifeguard, waitress, researcher for films, and as an editor for the Boston Indian Council newspaper The Circle.

In 1978, Erdrich enrolled in a Master of Arts program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. She earned the Master of Arts in the Writing Seminars in 1979. Erdrich later published some of the poems and stories she wrote while in the M.A. program. She returned to Dartmouth as a writer-in-residence.

After graduating from Dartmouth, Erdrich remained in contact with Michael Dorris. He attended one of her poetry readings, became impressed with her work, and developed an interest in working with her. Although Erdrich and Dorris were on two different sides of the world, Erdrich in Boston and Dorris in New Zealand for field research, the two began to collaborate on short stories.

The pair’s literary partnership led them to a romantic relationship. They married in 1981, and raised three children whom Dorris had adopted as a single parent and three biological children together (Persia, Pallas, Madeline, Reynold Abel, Sava and Aza Marion Reynold Abel suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and in 1991, at age 23, he was killed when he was hit by a car. In 1995 their son Jeffrey Sava accused Dorris of committing child abuse;[16] in 1997, after Dorris’s death, their adopted daughter Madeline claimed that Dorris sexually abused her and Erdrich had neglected to stop the abuse.

Dorris and Erdrich separated in 1995, and Dorris died by suicide in 1997. In his will, he only named his biological children with Erdrich.

In 2001, at age 47, Erdrich gave birth to a daughter, Azure, fathered by a Native American man Erdrich declines to identify publicly. She discusses her pregnancy with Azure, and Azure’s father, in her 2003 non-fiction book, Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country. She uses the name "Tobasonakwut" to refer to him. He is described as a traditional healer and teacher, who is eighteen years Erdrich’s senior and a married man. In a number of publications, Tobasonakwut Kinew, who died in 2012, is referred to as Erdrich’s partner and the father of Azure.

When asked in an interview if writing is a lonely life for her, Erdrich replied, "Strangely, I think it is. I am surrounded by an abundance of family and friends and yet I am alone with the writing. And that is perfect." Erdrich lives in Minneapolis.


Here is an interview with Louise Erdrich: