In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Louise Erdrich (Ojibwe)

  • Introduction
  • Cultural Background, Themes, Works
  • American Indian Literary Criticism
  • Biographies
  • Autobiographical Essays
  • Bibliographies
  • Interviews
  • Cultural Materials

American Literature Louise Erdrich (Ojibwe)
Connie A. Jacobs
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0074


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.

Cultural Background, Themes, Works

There are few works on the craft, cultural background, and themes in Erdrich’s novels. Stookey 1999 and Jacobs 2001 offer general overviews, while Stirrup 2011 examines the reception of her work and offers possible new approaches. The Ruoff 1999 afterword is a moving tribute to a friend’s accomplishments, while the Madsen 2011 introductory chapter provides a detailed review of Erdrich’s life and works through The Plague of Doves (2008). The reader’s guide in Beidler and Barton 2006 is an indispensable piece of scholarship for all Erdrich readers.

  • Beidler, Peter G., and Gay Barton. A Reader’s Guide to the Novels of Louise Erdrich. Rev. ed. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006.

    Essential for Erdrich readers. Includes genealogy charts, maps, summaries of events in each novel, and descriptions of all characters. Last novel referenced is The Painted Drum (2005).

  • Jacobs, Connie A. The Novels of Louise Erdrich: Stories of Her People. New York: Peter Lang, 2001.

    A study that situates Erdrich’s work within her Ojibwe culture and a tribal storytelling tradition. Though dated, the book is still useful for students who seek an overview of American Indian writing in general and the ways Erdrich’s novels connect by theme and tribal history in particular.

  • Madsen, Deborah L. “Louise Erdrich: The Aesthetics of ‘Mino Bimaadiziwin’” In Louise Erdrich: Tracks, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, The Plague of Doves. Edited by Deborah L. Madsen, 1–18. London: Continuum, 2011.

    Introduction to study of three novels. Includes awards, biography, importance of place in her novels, and contexts for the novels, both indigenous and Ojibwe. Good overview of Erdrich and her work. An excellent source for readers new to Erdrich.

  • Ruoff, A. LaVonne Brown. “Afterword.” In The Chippewa Landscape of Louise Erdrich. Edited by Allan Chavkin, 182–188. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999.

    Brown, who has known Erdrich since 1979, reviews Erdrich’s rise to prominence as an author. Discusses what makes Erdrich unique as a writer—her stories, which detail the complexity inherent in family and community relationships. Provides brief summaries of all works through Tales of Burning Love (1996).

  • Stirrup, David. Louise Erdrich. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2011.

    Six chapters interpreting Erdrich’s work with various critical frames. Refutes charges of Erdrich as a “nonpolitical” writer and studies themes in the poetry, Love Medicine, Tales of Burning Love, and the more recent fiction. Compares Erdrich’s narrative style to that of Annie Proulx. Studies Erdrich as a writer, mother, and educator. A full-length critical study for scholars.

  • Stookey, Lorena L. Louise Erdrich: A Critical Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999.

    A study of plot, style, theme, humor, and character development in Erdrich’s first six novels. Includes biographical material and reviews. A good resource for students looking at the early novels.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.