Louise Erdrich (Ojibwe)

Connie A. Jacobs

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Louise Erdrich (Ojibwe)

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Karen Louise Erdrich (b. 1954) is a popular, award-winning American Indian writer of, by 2012, twelve novels, a short story collection, six children’s books, three books of poetry, two nonfiction works, and scores of essays. Her stories have frequently appeared in the New Yorker, and her work is routinely anthologized in a wide variety of textbooks. The daughter of a German father and a Métis (French and Cree or Northern Ojibwe) mother, Erdrich grew up in the small town of Wapheton, North Dakota, where her parents worked at the Indian School, an off-reservation boarding school. Through her matrilineal line, she is an enrolled member in the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and her grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, was tribal chairman in the 1950s. She was encouraged by her parents from an early age to write and was nurtured on stories. With her admission to Dartmouth College in 1972, her talent began to mature. At Dartmouth she also met Michael Dorris, who encouraged her writing through her undergraduate years as well as in a master’s program at Johns Hopkins. The two married in 1981 and began a fourteen-year writing collaboration that ended with his suicide in 1997. Erdrich began as a poet, publishing Jacklight (1984) and Baptism of Desire (1989), but soon found poetry too restrictive for the stories she wanted to relate, and so began her career as a novelist. Erdrich’s breakthrough book was her first piece of fiction, Love Medicine (1984), which grew out of her story “The World’s Greatest Fisherman,” the winner of the1982 Nelson Algren Fiction Competition. The linked stories in Love Medicine generated more stories, which became the North Dakota novels: The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988), The Bingo Palace (1994), Tales of Burning Love (1997), The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (2001), and Four Souls (2004). Her other novels are located off the reservation with Ojibwe characters: The Antelope Wife (1998), The Painted Drum (2005), The Plague of Doves (2008), and Shadow Tag (2010). The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003) is the story of a German butcher who immigrates to North Dakota. Erdrich is popular among both the public and academics because of her lyrical language, compassion for humans with all their frailties, and storyteller’s gift of weaving together her individual novels into one long story of the historical reservation and contemporary urban Ojibwe. Readers will encounter several different names for the Ojibwe in this bibliography, and all terms can be used interchangeably. Chippewa was the name given to the tribe by anthropologists, and the US government used this name on treaties; Erdrich’s tribe is called the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Ojibwe is commonly used (there are variant spellings, Ojibway and Ojibwa, but Ojibwe is preferred). Anishinabe is a phonetic transcription from the oral tradition and is the traditional tribal name. Thanks to the Erdrich scholar Peter G. Beidler for his suggestions and assistance in tracking down sources.

Article.  13787 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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