Famed award-winning Ojibwe writer Louise Erdrich has earned the highest literary honor in the land: She will receive the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction during the 2015 Library of Congress National Book Festival in September, the federal institution announced on March 17.
Erdrich has authored 14 novels, most recently the multiple-award-winning The Round House (HarperCollinsPublishers, 2012), which won both an American Book Award and a National Book Award.
"Throughout a remarkable string of virtuosic novels, Louise Erdrich has portrayed her fellow Native Americans as no contemporary American novelist ever has, exploring—in intimate and fearless ways—the myriad cultural challenges that indigenous and mixed-race Americans face,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in a statement announcing the prize. “In this, her prose manages to be at once lyrical and gritty, magical yet unsentimental, connecting a dreamworld of Ojibwe legend to stark realities of the modern-day. And yet, for all the bracing originality of her work, her fiction is deeply rooted in the American literary tradition."
Although an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in North Dakota, the acclaimed author of 14 novels told The New York Times that her goal was to write compelling stories more than focus on Native issues per se.
“I don’t write from a compulsion to provide for the reader a Native American, Great Plains, or for that matter German-American experience,” said the writer, whose father is German-American and whose mother half French-American and half Ojibwe, to The New York Times. “I write narratives that compel me, using language that reverberates for me.”
Erdrich also won a National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction for Love Medicine (Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1984) and has received numerous other accolades as well. Not bad for a “skinny and tongue-tied” kid, said Erdrich in the statement. She acknowledged the role of living family in her success, and noted the contributions and hardships of both European and indigenous ancestors.
"My grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, was educated in an Indian boarding school, became chairman of his tribe and testified before Congress on behalf of the Turtle Mountain people," Erdrich said in the Library of Congress statement. "My other grandfather, Ludwig Erdrich, came here penniless from Germany in 1920 and worked incessantly through many heartbreaks to raise his family, including my father. Of all their grandchildren, it would have surprised them most to think of me, skinny and tongue-tied, amounting to anything. But in addition to the Library of Congress, I have my parents Rita and Ralph, in whom my grandparents’ spirits are still vital, to thank for this recognition."
The award recognizes “an American literary writer whose body of work is distinguished not only for its mastery of the art but also for its originality of thought and imagination” and looks to highlight “strong, unique, enduring voices that—throughout long, consistently accomplished careers—have told us something new about the American experience,” the library said.
This is the third time the prize has been awarded, with Don DeLillo and E.L. Doctorow preceding Erdrich in 2013 and 2014, respectively. It grew out of the Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award for fiction, which have gone to the likes of John Grisham (2009), Isabel Allende (2010), Toni Morrison (2011) and Philip Roth (2012), the Library of Congress said.