Louise Erdrich was born Karen Louise Erdrich in Little Falls, Minnesota, in June of 1954. She is the first child of a German-American father and a half Ojibwe mother, and the eldest of seven siblings. Her parents met while teaching at an Indian boarding school in North Dakota. As a child, her father encouraged her creative talents by paying her for the short stories she composed. Erdrich studied English literature at Dartmouth during her undergraduate years and went on to receive an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University. Erdrich’s Ojibwe heritage has informed a great deal of her literary body of work.

Love Medicine, which was first published in 1984 and was Erdrich’s first novel, was a critical success that launched her into the public consciousness as part of the Native American Renaissance. The movement, which began in the late 1960s, includes literary greats such as N. Scott Momaday and Joy Harjo. Erdrich’s characters are complex, as are their relationships, and they often grapple with tragedy, trauma, and identity. While Erdrich is well known for her short story collections that explore the lives of interconnected and multi-generational Native American families and communities, her body of work is diverse. In addition to authoring numerous short story collections, she is the author of novels, children’s literature, poetry, and nonfiction books across a variety of genres. Her 2021 novel The Night Watchman was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Erdrich met her late husband, Michael Dorris, while studying at Dartmouth. Their relationship was both literary and romantic, and Dorris collaborated as an editor on much of Erdrich’s work throughout their life together. They raised six children, three of whom Dorris had adopted before the couple was married, and three biological children. Dorris and Erdrich separated in 1995. He died by suicide in 1997. Erdrich went on to have another child at the age of forty-seven. Although she is somewhat private about this area of her life, her relationship with her child’s father is explored in Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country, a nonfiction book that the publisher describes as “a blend of history, mythology, and memoir.”