Whether we are a writer or not, when we write, we tell stories about what matters to us: what hits close to home or what is home. The world around us is a wealth of inspiration and a testament of the journey that has led us to the spot where we stand. Sometimes it inspires an inward look and sometimes an outward reach to explore universal questions. Louise Erdrich, a Native American author, essayist, and poet has done both.
In honor of Native American Heritage Month, let’s take a closer look into this amazing author’s life, her wide range of books, and especially her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Night Watchman.
Meet Louise Erdrich
In 1972, she was among the first women admitted to Darmouth College. She majored in English and creative writing and took courses in the Native American Studies program. By 1979 she earned her Master of Arts degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University.
Although Erdrich’s career as a writer was off to a wonderful start, her personal life would be laced with tragedy. While in college she met her husband Michael Dorris. He had previously adopted 3 children on one of which had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The struggles of raising a child with FAS can be very stressful. They also had three children together and lost the first born in a car accident. There were additional problems that put a strain on the marriage leading to their divorce. Later her ex-husband would commit suicide.
As you can imagine the combination of her rich storytelling heritage and childhood combined with life experiences has influenced her writing, giving her a voice that is both introspective and explorative in nature. This is one of many reasons that Erdrich’s books have been so widely popular.
A Rich Collection of Writing
Louise Erdrich is not just an author of sixteen novels, volumes of poetry, children’s books, and a memoir of early motherhood, she is a critically acclaimed writer with many awards under her belt. She has won the National Critics Circle Award for Fiction, American Book Award, Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts Award, Word Fantasy Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction, and her most recent, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Here are some of the award-winning books:
The Master Butchers Singing Club
The Pulitzer Prize for 2021, The Night Watchman
Her latest awarded book is also a New York Times best seller.
The Night Watchman is based on the extraordinary life of Erdrich’s grandfather who worked as a night watchman and carried on the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington D.C. It is a powerful novel that examines themes of love and death, using sly humor and elegant prose. It is another example of her true talent. To delve more into this amazing book, you can check it out at the library.
Now let me leave you with this quote from Erdrich that I think truly captures a certain essence of her passion as a writer and human. Enjoy!
“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 are here 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 near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” ― Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum