Louise Erdrich

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Louise Erdrich in 2015

Louise Erdrich (born Karen Louise Erdrich June 7, 1964) is an American author, novelist, poet, and children's author who features Native American themes in her writings.


  • Nothing. I was a model child. It was the teacher’s mistake I am sure. The box was drawn on the blackboard and the names of misbehaving children were written in it. As I adored my teacher, Miss Smith, I was destroyed to see my name appear. This was just the first of the many humiliations of my youth that I’ve tried to revenge through my writing. I have never fully exorcised shames that struck me to the heart as a child except through written violence, shadowy caricature, and dark jokes.
  • I started Future Home of the Living God sometime after the 2000 U.S. election. I was furious and worried. I saw the results of electing George W. Bush as a disaster for reproductive rights. Sure enough, he began by reinstating the global gag rule, which cuts international funding for contraceptives if abortion is mentioned. This, when we face overpopulation.
  • (What moves you most in a work of literature?) Reading about an ordinary person who behaves with integrity in a terrifying situation.
  • Sorrow eats time. Be patient. Time eats sorrow.
    • LaRose (2016)
  • Getting blown up happened in an instant; getting put together took the rest of your life.
    • LaRose (2016)
  • To love another human in all of her splendor and imperfect perfection , it is a magnificent task...tremendous and foolish and human.
    • The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (2011)
  • Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that. And living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on Earth. You have to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes too near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.
    • The Painted Drum (2005)
  • What are dreams but an internal wilderness and what is desire but a wildness of the soul?
    • The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year (1996)
  • When every inch of the world is known, sleep may be the only wilderness that we have left.
    • The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year (1995)
  • We do know that no one gets wise enough to really understand the heart of another, though it is the task of our life to try.
    • The Bingo Palace (1994)
  • But then as time passed, I learned the lesson that parents do early on. You fail sometimes. No matter how much you love your children, there are times you slip. There are moments you can't give, stutter, lose your temper, or simply lose face with the world, and you can't explain this to a child.
    • The Beet Queen (1986)

Interview with NPR (2020)[edit]

  • These treaties had been made since the beginning of our country on a nation-to-nation basis with every tribe. And they all contain these words, as long as the grass grows, as long as the rivers flow.
  • I'm a very mixed person. And yet, being a citizen of a nation within our nation gives one a certain sense of - it changes your life. It means that I care deeply about my people, my mother's people.
  • The reasoning behind the best schools being far away was to assimilate native children, to train them to live in a culture that was very different from their parents. So that when they came home, often children couldn't speak the language that their parents were speaking. I have to say right here that boarding schools are often characterized in sort of a lump definition, but they were all very different. And the government had secular boarding schools which underwent a real sea change in the 1930s and became much more supportive of native culture, while many of the boarding schools which were run by religious groups did not and remained hostile to native religion and native culture.
  • I've been asked by people, well, why wasn't that great? Why didn't people just want to move away from their reservation and become like everybody else? You know, I've been asked that question. It's a fair question. And the answer is because native people aren't like everybody else, and native people want to stay who we are, right? And that's because the government made a very firm decision not to put money into the infrastructure on reservations, not to keep the treaties. The treaties stated that they would provide for health, education and the general welfare of native people as they struggled into this new form of existence. And that was basically rent for all that the rest of the country enjoys; all of the lands, all of the rivers, all of the places that no longer belonged to Native Americans.
  • Now there is a lot more awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women. And it hasn't - of course, it hasn't stopped. It's probably gotten worse.
  • If you should ever doubt that a series of dry words in a government document can shatter spirits and demolish lives, let this book (The Night Watchman) erase that doubt. Conversely, if you should be of the conviction that we are powerless to change those dry words, let this book give you heart.

The Round House (2012)[edit]

  • Now that I knew fear, I also knew it was not permanent. As powerful as it was, its grip on me would loosen. It would pass.
  • Of course, English is a very powerful language, a colonizer's language and a gift to a writer. English has destroyed and sucked up the languages of other cultures - its cruelty is its vitality.
  • "We are never so poor that we cannot bless another human being, are we? So it is that every evil, whether moral or material, results in good. You'll see."
  • In order to purify yourself, you have to understand yourself, Father Trais went on. Everything out in the world is also in you. Good, bad, evil, perfection, death, everything. So we study our souls.
  • “Any judge knows there are many kinds of justice—for instance, ideal justice as opposed to the best-we-can-do justice, which is what we end up with in making so many of our decisions.”

Interview with The Paris Review (2010)[edit]

  • I have never fully exorcised shames that struck me to the heart as a child except through written violence, shadowy caricature, and dark jokes.
  • The Ojibwe say that each word has a spirit.
  • English is a very powerful language, a colonizer’s language and a gift to a writer. English has destroyed and sucked up the languages of other cultures—its cruelty is its vitality.
  • I’ve come to love the traditional Ojibwe ceremonies, and some rituals, but I hate religious rules. They are usually about controlling women. On Sundays when other people go to wood-and-stone churches, I like to take my daughters into the woods. Or at least work in the garden and be outside. Any god we have is out there. I’d hate to be certain that there was nothing. When it comes to God, I cherish doubt.
  • People assume there is just one sort of Native experience. No.
  • It didn’t occur to me that my books would be widely read at all, and that enabled me to write anything I wanted to. And even once I realized that they were being read, I still wrote as if I were writing in secret. That’s how one has to write anyway—in secret.
  • I suppose one develops a number of personas and hides them away, then they pop up during writing. The exertion of control comes later. I take great pleasure in writing when I get a real voice going and I’m able to follow the voice and the character. It’s like being in a trance state. Once that had happened a few times, I knew I needed to write for the rest of my life. I began to crave the trance state. I would be able to return to the story anytime, and it would play out in front of me, almost effortlessly.
  • All of the books will be connected somehow—by history and blood and by something I have no control over, which is the writing itself. The writing is going to connect where it wants to, and I will have to try and follow along.
  • By having children, I’ve both sabotaged and saved myself as a writer. I hate to ­pigeonhole myself as a writer, but being a female and a mother and a Native American are important aspects of my work, and even more than being mixed blood or Native, it’s difficult to be a mother and a writer...It’s because you’re ­always fighting sentiment. You’re fighting sentimentality all of the time ­because being a mother alerts you in such a primal way. You are alerted to any danger to your child, and by extension you become afraid of anybody getting hurt. This becomes the most powerful thing to you; it’s instinctual. Either you end up writing about terrible things happening to children—as if you could ward them off simply by writing about them—or you tie things up in easily opened packages, or you pull your punches as a writer. All deadfalls to watch for...having children has also made me this particular writer. Without my children, I’d have written with less fervor; I wouldn’t understand life in the same way. I’d write fewer comic scenes, which are the most challenging. I’d probably have become obsessively self-absorbed, or slacked off. Maybe I’d have become an alcoholic. Many of the writers I love most were alcoholics. I’ve made my choice, I sometimes think: Wonderful children instead of hard liquor.
  • Bits of narrative always cling to a title, like magnetism.
  • I have always kept notebooks—I have an obsessive devotion to them—and I go back to them over and over. They are my compost pile of ideas.
  • (A journalist once asked you what advice you would give someone trying to write a novel. You said, “Don’t take the project too seriously.” Is that what you would say today?) LE: I think I meant that grand ideas kill first efforts. Begin with something in your range. Then write it as a secret. I’d be paralyzed if I thought I had to write a great novel, and no matter how good I think a book is on one day, I know now that a time will come when I will look upon it as a failure. The gratification has to come from the effort itself. I try not to look back. I approach the work as though, in truth, I’m nothing and the words are everything. Then I write to save my life. If you are a writer, that will be true. Writing has saved my life...I needed a way to go at life. I needed meaning. I might have chosen something more self-destructive had I not found writing.
  • If I am writing a novel, it casts an aura around me and I get ideas for it, descriptions, words, phrases, at all times. I’m always jotting in notebooks I keep with me. That delight of immersion in a book is as good as a trance. For a while, the book is so powerful that I can follow the thread even through my chaotic daily existence, with children at all hours, school, dinner, long calls to my daughters, my ever-demanding house, barking dogs, and the bookstore.
  • Any good business is about its people.
  • People need bookstores and need other readers. We need the intimate communication with others who love books. We don’t really think we do, because of the ease that the Internet has introduced, but we still need the physical world more than we know.
  • There’s something very wrong in our country—and not just in the book business. We now see what barely fettered capitalism looks like. We are killing the small and the intimate. We all feel it and we don’t know quite why everything is beginning to look the same. The central cores of large cities can still sustain interesting places. But all across our country we are intent on developing chain after chain with no character and employees who work for barely livable wages. We are losing our individuality. Killing the soul of our landscape. Yet we’re supposed to be the most individualistic of countries. I feel the sadness of it every time I go through cities like Fargo and Minneapolis and walk the wonderful old Main Streets and then go out to the edges and wander through acres of concrete boxes. Our country is starting to look like Legoland.
  • (Is writing a lonely life for you?) LE: Strangely, I think it is. I am surrounded by an abundance of family and friends, and yet I am alone with the writing. And that is perfect.

The Plague of Doves (2008)[edit]

  • What happens when you let an unsatisfactory present go on long enough? It becomes your entire history.
  • There are ways of being abandoned even when your parents are right there.
  • When we are young, the words are scattered all around us. As they are assembled by experience, so also are we, sentence by sentence, until the story takes shape.

Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris edited by Allan Chavkin and Nancy Feyl Chavkin (1994)[edit]

  • (Q: Do you recall what you read when you were a child?) A: What most children read, I think-Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins and Hardy Boys, Jack London, Marjorie Morningstar, Animal Farm and Shakespeare's history plays, because with my father, I watched all of Educational TV's The Age of Kings, and then listened to Macbeth and King Lear records over and over. I read every single Readers Digest Condensed book, all kinds of household magazines, nature guides, Victoria Holt, Robert Ruark, Leon Uris, all the big fat books in the front shelf at the local library. I remember having books splayed open, under pillows and jackets all over the house because, as the oldest of several children, I had lots of responsibility and not much time to read. (1993 interview)
  • (Q: Were there any established writers whom you knew and were important to your writing career during or after your apprenticeship period?) A: Mark Vinz, Cynthia MacDonald, Richard Howard, Charles Newman, Edmund White, M. L. Rosenthal, and then, although Love Medicine went out with absolutely no expectations or any prepublication notes or hype, none at all, Toni Morrison, Kay Boyle, Philip Roth, Peter Matthiessen, Anne Tyler, and Rosellen Brown read an unknown manuscript and responded with those quotes and marks of approval that appear on book jackets. These were completely unsolicited and I still find it remarkable that these writers, overwhelmed with pleas and manuscripts, picked up Love Medicine and responded. There were a great number of people kind along the way. One hears much more about the egomania and posturing of writers than one does about the devotion that writers have for one another's work. (1993 interview)
  • (Q: Are you concerned that being labelled a "Native American writer" or a "woman writer" might result in your being marginalized? Do you object to those labels?) Erdrich: I think they originate in course descriptions and that there is some use in them. If the work survives, perhaps they'll fall away. If not, there isn't much I can do about it. After all, I don't think we read George Eliot, [Jane Austen]], Virginia Woolf, or Flannery O'Connor as "women writers" anymore, but as vital voices of their time. I know that, for instance, Toni Morrison will be read in this fashion. She is already. The point we're striving for is one at which the criteria for the work is its worth to readers, its excellence, the qualities that shine out and endure. (1993 interview)
  • (Wasn't it Pete Seeger who once said that any time you assemble a group of people, for whatever purpose, you have the body politic?) Erdrich: That's what people on reservations say. You know, everything's political. Getting your teeth fixed is political. There's no way around it. I just don't want to become polemical. That's the big difference. (1991 interview)
  • when you love someone you try to listen to them. Their voice then comes through. (1987)
  • The recent abundance of Native American writers follows the course of Native American fortunes in general. Things got better for Native Americans in education, in health, in many areas. I'm one who has benefited from Bureau of Indian Affairs money and education. The program at Dartmouth really stresses the importance of keeping your heritage. All of these things really work together. If things continue as they are now under the Reagan administration, we can expect to see a corresponding absence of younger Native American writers as well as Native American doctors, lawyers, everything-who don't have the educational advantages. These things are linked to a national governmental attitude toward keeping those promises of providing education and tribal assistance. (1986 interview)
  • there's such a sense of humor and irony in Native American life, in tribal life. I mean, that's one of the things that does not get portrayed often enough-that there's such an irony and humor. (1986 interview)

Love Medicine (1984)[edit]

  • The length of sky is just about the size of my ignorance. Pure and wide.
  • All through my life I never did believe in human measurement. Numbers, time, inches, feet. All are just ploys for cutting nature down to size. I know the grand scheme of the world is beyond our brains to fathom, so I don't try, just let it in.
  • The greatest wisdom doesn't know itself. The richest plan is not to have one.
  • Right and wrong were shades of meaning, not sides of a coin.
  • So many things in the world have happened before. But it's like they never did. Every new thing that happens to a person, it's a first
  • Society is like this card game here, cousin. We got dealt our hand before we were even born, and as we grow we have to play as best as we can.
  • You know, some people fall right through the hole in their lives.
  • I let my thoughts run out like water from a dam.
  • Because we shared the loneliness that was one shape. Because I knew that in her old age she shared that same boat, where I had labored. She crested and sank in dark waves. Those waves were taking her onward, through night, through day, the water beating and slashing across her unknown path. She struggled to continue. She was traveling hard, and death was her light.
  • And so when they tell you that I was heartless, a shameless man-chaser, don't ever forget this: I loved what I saw. And yes, it is true that I've done all the things they say. That's not what gets them. What aggravates them is I've never shed one solitary tear. I'm not sorry
  • Time was rushing around me like water around a big wet rock. The only difference is, I was not so durable as stones. Very quickly I would be smoothed away. It was happening already.
  • Your life feels different on you, once you greet death and understand your heart's position. You wear your life like a garment from the mission bundle sale ever after -- lightly because you realize you never paid nothing for it, cherishing because you know you won't ever come by such a bargain again. Also, you have the feeling someone wore it before you and someone will after. I can't explain that, not yet, but I'm putting my mind to it.
  • ...life is made up of three kinds of people—those who live it, those afraid to, those in between.

Quotes about Louise Erdrich[edit]

  • Today, great writers from minority groups in the U.S. are finding their voice in the wonderful, rich imagery of magic realism. Writers such as Louise Erdrich, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Amy Tan all have a unique, rich way of writing that can be described as magic realism. These women are among those who have broken away from the style of writing that defines most of the fiction coming from industrialized countries: that pragmatic, minimalist style and way of facing reality in which the only things one dares talk about are those things one can control.
  • Louise Erdrich, Barbara Kingsolver. They write, as you say, from the margins: a subversive novel, with an anti-WASP tone that I love.
    • 1991 interview included in Conversations with Isabel Allende (1999) Translated from Spanish by Virginia Invernizzi
  • Philip Roth has declared her "greatly gifted" and found in her work "originality, authority, tenderness, and a pitiless and wild wit," and Toni Morrison has written that "the beauty of Love Medicine saves us from being devastated by its power."
    • Shelby Grantham, 1985 interview in Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris edited by Allan Chavkin and Nancy Feyl Chavkin (1994)
  • I read Louise Erdrich’s “Love Medicine,” with its strong multiple voices. The stories were bound by community and mutual loss. That later became a model for the structure of “The Joy Luck Club.”
  • Love Medicine has received all kinds of acclaim. Like many others, Ursula Le Guin is unrestrained in her praise of Love Medicine which she calls "a work of really startling beauty and power" and of you, Louise, whom she refers to as "a true artist and probably a major one" [SAIL, Winter 1985].
    • Hertha D. Wong, 1986 interview in Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris edited by Allan Chavkin and Nancy Feyl Chavkin (1994)

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