The following is an excerpt from "The 25 Most Influential Alumni", featured in the January/February 2019 issue of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. The profile was written by Savannah Maher ’17.
Growing up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, Louise Erdrich collected her first royalties in the form of pocket change. Her father shelled out five cents for each of her childhood manuscripts—stories of lonely girls with hidden talents. Forty years later, after she had won most of America’s top literary honors, he gave her a roll of antique nickels. He owed her.
A biracial citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Erdrich draws on Anishinaabe oral tradition and Germanic lore in her 30 published books—poetry, memoirs, short fiction, and the 16 epically interwoven novels for which she is most celebrated.
“She is, like Faulkner, one of the great American regionalists, bearing the dark knowledge of her place,” Philip Roth once said, referencing the fictional North Dakota reservation where much of her work is set. “She is by now among the very best American writers.”
Erdrich arrived auspiciously at Dartmouth in red cowboy boots as a member of its first coed class and first modern indigenous cohort, and she graduated in a pair of refurbished moccasins. She worked odd jobs—waiting tables, editing a newspaper, teaching poetry to inmates—while establishing herself as a poet, then as a short story writer, and, finally, in 1984 as a bestselling author with her debut novel Love Medicine, whose “beauty…keeps us from being devastated by its power,” raved Toni Morrison.
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Photo courtesy of Dartmouth College
WATCH: In May 2012, Erdrich read from her novel, "The Round House," and spoke with Bruce Duthu, the Samson Occom Professor of Native American Studies.