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About Louise Erdrich Essay, Research Paper

Louise Erdrich

The earth was full of life and there were dandelions growing out

the window, thick as thieves, already seeded, fat as big yellow plungers. She let my hand

go. I got up. "I’ll go out and dig a few dandelions," I told her. Outside, the

sun was hot and heavy as a hand on my back. I felt it flow down my arms, out my fingers,

arrowing through the ends of the fork into the earth. With every root I prized up there

was a return, as if I was kin to its secret lesson. The touch got stronger as I worked

through the grassy afternoon. Uncurling from me like a seed out of the blackness where I

was lost, the touch spread. The spiked leaves full of bitter mother’s milk. A buried root.

A nuisance people dig up and throw in the sun to wither. A globe of frail seeds

that’s indestructible.

From Love Medicine (1984)

Brigham Narins

Erdrich’s interest in writing can be traced to her childhood and her heritage. She told

Writer’s Digest contributor Michael Schumacher, "People in [Native American]

families make everything into a story . . . People just sit and the stories start coming,

one after another. I suppose that when you grow up constantly hearing the stories rise,

break, and fall, it gets into you somehow."

[. . . .]

Erdrich once told Contemporary Authors of the way in which her parents

encouraged her writing: "My father used to give me a nickel for story I wrote, and my

mother wove strips of construction paper together and stapled them into book covers. So at

an early age I felt myself to be a published author earning substantial royalties."

Online source: http://www.nativeauthors.com/search/bio/bioerdrich.html

Kayann Short

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).

[Editor’s Note: Michael Dorris committed suicide in 1997.]

From The Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States. Ed.

Cathy Davidson and Linda Wagner-Martin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Copyright

? 1995 by Oxford University Press.

Amy Leigh McNally and Piyali Nath Dalal

In a 1985 interview with Laura Coltelli, Karen Louise Erdrich was asked if she

considered herself to be a poet or a storyteller. Erdrich replied, "Oh, a

storyteller, a writer." Her own life story, as well as her novels and poems, are what

make Louise Erdrich so widely known. Erdrich, the oldest of seven children, was born in

Little Falls, Minnesota, on June 7, 1954. The daughter of French Ojibwe mother and German

American father, Louise Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

Erdrich’s large extended family lived nearby, affecting her writing life from an early


Her father introduced Louise to William Shakespeare’s plays and encouraged Louise and

her sisters to write their own stories (Giles 44). Erdrich comments in a 1991 Writer’s

Digest interview, "The people in our families made everything into a story. They

love to tell a good story. People just sit and the stories start coming, one after

another. You just sort of grab the tail of the last person’s story: it reminds you of

something and you keep going on. I suppose that when you grow up constantly hearing the

stories rise, break and fall, it gets into you somehow" (Giles 43). The exposure to

storytelling had a prodigious influence on Louise’s shaping and creation of plot; it was

as important as literary influences if not more.

[. . . .]

After completing her undergraduate degree, Erdrich taught poetry and writing to young

people through a position at the State Arts Council of North Dakota. She worked a variety

of low-paying jobs, from waitressing to weighing trucks on the interstate. These

occupations have made their way into Erdrich’s fiction, increasing its verisimilitude, and

broadening her understanding of the human experience. Erdrich was awarded a fellowship to

be part of John Hopkins University’s writing program in 1979. She then worked as an editor

of the Boston Indian Council newspaper, The Circle.

[. . . .]

Writing intuitively, allowing characters to tell their own stories with their own voice

and at their own pace, writing without chronological structure, writing prose daily, and

working on several projects at once are some pieces of the process of Louise Erdrich’s

writing life. She revises extensively, referring incessantly to old journals for ideas and


[. . . .]

Although two books of Erdrich’s poetry, Imagination (1981) and Jacklight

(1984), had already been published by the time Love Medicine (1984) appeared

in publication, Erdrich’s first novel was clearly responsible for her eruption into

academic and popular success as a writer. Love Medicine, a collection of

interrelated short stories, features characters and speakers from four Anishinaabe

families: the Kashpaws, the Lamartines, the Pillagers, and the Morrisseys. Erdrich

represents the families in non-hierarchical terms by employing speakers of various ages

and stations within the community. Furthermore, the fifty year span of the novel is

related to the reader not chronologically, but instead in a cyclical manner as the book

opens in 1980, weaves its way back to the 1930’s, and finally returns to the early 1980’s.

Erdrich’s narrative technique ultimately accomplishes a holistic temporal view of the

Anishinaabe culture in which present occurrences cannot be isolated from the past.

From Voices in the Gap. Online source: http://voices.cla.umn.edu/authors/LouiseErdrich.html

"My father used to give me a nickel for every story I wrote…. So at an early age

I felt myself to be a published author earning substantial royalties."




Award-winning author Louise Erdrich published her first two books — Jacklight,

a volume of poetry, and Love Medicine, a novel — at the age of thirty. The

daughter of a Chippewa Indian mother and a German-American father, the author explores

Native American themes in her works, with major characters representing both sides of her

heritage. The first in a multi-part series, Love Medicine traces two Native

American families from 1934 to 1984 in a unique seven-narrator format. The novel was

extremely well-received, earning its author numerous awards, including the National Book

Critics Circle Award in 1984. Since then, Erdrich has gone on to publish The Beet

Queen, Tracks, The Bingo Palace, and Tales of Burning Love, all

of which are related through recurring characters and themes.

Erdrich’s interest in writing can be traced to her childhood and her heritage. She toldWriter’s

Digest contributor Michael Schumacher, "People in [Native American] families make

everything into a story…. People just sit and the stories start coming, one after

another. I suppose that when you grow up constantly hearing the stories rise, break, and

fall, it gets into you somehow." The oldest in a family of seven children, Erdrich

was raised in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Her Chippewa grandfather had been the tribal chair

of the nearby Turtle Mountain Reservation, and her parents worked at the Bureau of Indian

Falls boarding school. Erdrich once told CA of the way in which her parents

encouraged her writing: "My father used to give me a nickel for every story I wrote,

and my mother wove strips of construction paper together and stapled them into book

covers. So at an early age I felt myself to be a published author earning substantial


Erdrich’s first year at Dartmouth, 1972, was the year the college began admitting

women, as well as the year the Native American studies department was established. The

author’s future husband and collaborator, anthropologist Michael Dorris, was hired to

chair the department. In his class, Erdrich began the exploration of her own ancestry that

would eventually inspire her novels. Intent on balancing her academic training with a

broad range of practical knowledge, Erdrich told Miriam Berkley in an interview with Publishers

Weekly, "I ended up taking some really crazy jobs, and I’m glad I did. They

turned out to have been very useful experiences, although I never would have believed it

at the time." In addition to working as a lifeguard, waitress, poetry teacher at

prisons, and construction flag signaler, Erdrich became an editor for the Circle, a

Boston Indian Council newspaper. She told Schumacher, "Settling into that job and

becoming comfortable with an urban community — which is very different from the

reservation community — gave me another reference point. There were lots of people

with mixed blood, lots of people who had their own confusions. I realized that this was

part of my life — it wasn’t something that I was making up — and that it was

something I wanted to write about." In 1978, the author enrolled in an M.A.

program at Johns Hopkins University, where she wrote poems and stories incorporating her

heritage, many of which would later become part of her books. She also began sending her

work to publishers, most of whom sent back rejection slips.

After receiving her master’s degree, Erdrich returned to Dartmouth as a

writer-in-residence. Dorris — with whom she had remained in touch — attended a

reading of Erdrich’s poetry there, and was impressed. A writer himself — Dorris would

later publish the best-selling novel A Yellow Raft in Blue Water and receive the

1989 National Book Critics Circle Award for his nonfiction work The Broken Cord

— he decided then that he was interested in working with Erdrich and getting to know

her better. When he left for New Zealand to do field research and Erdrich went to Boston

to work on a textbook, the two began sending their poetry and fiction back and forth with

their letters, laying a groundwork for a literary relationship. Dorris returned to New

Hampshire in 1980, and Erdrich moved back there as well. The two began collaborating on

short stories, including one titled "The World’s Greatest Fisherman." When this

story won five thousand dollars in the Nelson Algren fiction competition, Erdrich and

Dorris decided to expand it into a novel — Love Medicine. At the same time,

their literary relationship led to a romantic one. In 1981 they were married.

The titles Erdrich and Dorris have chosen for their novels — such as Love

Medicine and A Yellow Raft in Blue Water — tend to be rich poetic or

visual images. The title is often the initial inspiration from which their novels are

drawn. Erdrich told Schumacher, "I think a title is like a magnet: It begins to draw

these scraps of experience or conversation or memory to it. Eventually, it collects a

book." Erdrich and Dorris’s collaboration process begins with a first draft, usually

written by whoever had the original idea for the book, the one who will ultimately be

considered the official author. After the draft is written, the other person edits it, and

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