Louise Erdrich

The Board of Trustees of The Kenyon Review is pleased to honor Louise Erdrich as the 2009 recipient of the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement. Erdrich’s novels convey abundance: often told in chorus, their many narrative voices punctuate the longing, the failures, and the grace lived in her powerful art. Erdrich’s most recent novel The Plague of Doves was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize and a New York Times bestseller.

About Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich, the daughter of a Chippewa Indian mother and a German-American father, was born in Little Falls, Minnesota in 1954, and raised in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her parents were both teachers at the Bureau of Indian Affairs school. She is the eldest of seven children. Erdrich was part of the first class of women at Dartmouth College, graduating in 1976. Her first year there, 1972, was also the year the Native-American studies department was created at the college. She later earned an M.A. in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University in 1979.

After publishing a book of poems largely based on her master’s thesis in 1984 entitled Jacklight Erdrich expanded a short story called “The World’s Greatest Fisherman” and included it as the opening chapter in what became her first novel, Love Medicine. Love Medicine won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1984, and received great critical attention and acclaim.

Since these early publications, Erdrich has gone on to publish 11 additional novels, most recently The Plague of Doves, as well two additional books of poems, a series of children’s books, a collection of stories, and a memoir of early motherhood. Critics cite her as a seminal American writer, noting her prolific body of work as well as her artistic interest in addressing the cultural issues facing modern-day Native American and mixed heritage Americans. An essayist for Contemporary Novelists has noted: “Erdrich’s accomplishment is that she is weaving a body of work that goes beyond portraying contemporary Native American life as descendants of a politically dominated people to explore the great universal questions—questions of identity, pattern versus randomness, and the meaning of life itself.” It has been suggested that her nonlinear narratives and circular stories—where characters that appear in one novel may appear in another, years later—articulate a storytelling style with a lyrical sense of time, a style that highlights the thematic touchstones of love, loss, grief, and recovery around which her oeuvre is organized, rather than a simple conventional narrative progression of one action leading to the next.

Erdrich lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.

Photo of Louise Erdrich by Bettina Straus.

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