Published April 23 2013
Forum editorial: Erdrich excellent choiceLouise Erdrich richly deserves her selection as the latest recipient of the North Dakota Rough Rider Award, which honors current or former North Dakotans who were influenced by the state and achieved national recognition in their field. That’s certainly the case with Erdrich, who grew up in Wahpeton and has won many accolades as an author, including the National Book Award in 2012 for her last novel, “The Round House.”
Erdrich first achieved national prominence with her maiden novel, “Love Medicine,” which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1984. Many of her novels have been set in North Dakota, on and off a fictional Ojibwe reservation. Her fiction often involves multiple narrators and interconnected story lines, layered by local history that reverberates in surprising and revelatory ways across generations. Her body of work, which includes 14 novels and a short story collection, has conjured a fictional world in a setting populated by recurring or related characters that are so distinctive that it has been compared to William Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Miss.
As with Faulker, the weight of the past figures prominently in Erdrich’s fiction. Her 2008 novel, “The Plague of Doves,” concerns a case in which four American Indians were wrongly convicted of murdering a white family, an injustice inspired by an actual case in Emmons County, N.D. Her own multicultural heritage underlies the multiple strands and points of view that run through her work. An enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, she is the daughter of a man whose ancestry is German and a woman who is of Ojibwe and French heritage. She also is the daughter of school teachers, and although her novels don’t give even a hint of the pedantic, readers can learn much from her stories about the interplay of two such different cultural worlds.
“As an internationally acclaimed author and a prominent literary figure, she has brought pride and honor to the community of Wahpeton, the people of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and the entire state, and has given back in so many ways to her home and to those who impacted her life,” Gov. Jack Dalrymple said in presenting the honor to Erdrich last Friday. It’s a fitting tribute to a deserving recipient. Erdrich is the 39th person and third author to receive the Rough Rider Award. Her creative life and work provide a testimonial of the richness that comes when different worlds come together.
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