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Native American Heritage Month

This guide is designed to highlight library resources about Native American history, culture, and heritage. It is part of the Global Learning Virtual Collections Series.

Louise Erdrich: Native American Author and Winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

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 QueenTracksThe Bingo PalaceTales 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.

(Biography source:

2021 Pulitzer Prize for FIction