How to pronounce Louise Erdrich: er-drik (means rich earth)
Louise Erdrich is one of the most gifted, prolific, and challenging of
contemporary Native American novelists. Born in 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota,
she grew up mostly in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her parents taught at Bureau
of Indian Affairs schools. Her fiction reflects aspects of her mixed heritage:
German through her father, and French and Ojibwa through her mother. She worked
at various jobs, such as hoeing sugar beets, farm work, waitressing, short
order cooking, lifeguarding, and construction work, before becoming a writer.
She attended the Johns Hopkins creative writing program and received fellowships
at the McDowell Colony and the Yaddo Colony. After she was named
writer-in-residence at Dartmouth, she married professor Michael Dorris and
raised several children, some of them adopted. She and Michael became a
picture-book husband-and-wife writing team, though they wrote only one truly
collaborative novel, The Crown of Columbus (1991).
The Antelope Wife was published in 1998, not long after her separation from Michael and his subsequent suicide. Some reviewers believed they saw in The Antelope Wife the anguish Erdrich must have felt as her marriage crumbled, but she has stated that she is unconscious of having mirrored any real-life events.
She is the author of a number of award-winning novels, including Love Medicine; The Beet Queen; Tracks; and The Bingo Palace. She also has written two collections of poetry, Jacklight, and Baptism of Desire. Her fiction has been honored by the National Book Critics Circle (1984) and The Los Angeles Times (1985), and has been translated into fourteen languages.
Several of her short stories have been selected for O. Henry awards and for inclusion in the annual Best American Short Story anthologies. The Blue Jay's Dance, a memoir of motherhood, was her first nonfiction work, and her children's book, Grandmother's Pigeon, has been published by Hyperion Press. She lives in Minnesota with her children, who help her run a small independent bookstore called The Birchbark.
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A Conversation with Louise Erdrich
Q. Your novel The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse
is the story of Father Damien Modeste and it spans from 1912 to the present.
A. 1911 or 1912, yes. It then moves forward to nearly the present. But it also includes some history of characters and those histories occur before the turn of the last century. It spans the emotional and historical landscape of my previous books as well and, I hope, brings them into some sort of focus or sheds new light on some of the characters's secrets. And of course it brings one character, Father Damien, who was a minor contributor to the book Tracks, into his/her own.
Q. Everything in the novel -- from people to places to the very landscapes -- seems to exist between two extremes. Damien is Agnes. Leopolda is somewhere between sainthood and acts of cavalier cruelty. Even the bank robber is called The Actor. There is almost a Manichaean split between things. And rather than being an expose on hypocrisy, it's more that these are the necessary tools of survival in a way.
A. I don't interpret what I write so it's interesting to hear it put in a way that makes it seem planned and intelligent. I write so much on ...
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