Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to ICT
Pulitzer Prize-winning Indigenous author Louise Erdrich has won the prestigious Berresford Prize — not for her writing but for her contribution to the advancement and care of other artists in society.
Erdrich, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, is being awarded the $50,000 prize from the nonprofit United States Artists for operating Birchbark Books and Native Arts, a store she opened in 2001 that serves as a gathering place for the Indigenous literary and arts community in Minneapolis.
SUPPORT INDIGENOUS JOURNALISM. CONTRIBUTE TODAY.
“Artists are supported in quiet, beautiful ways by the efforts of Louise Erdrich,” Judilee Reed, president and chief executive officer of United States Artists said in a statement announcing the award on Thursday, Nov. 10.
“An accomplished artist in her own right, Ms. Erdrich opened Birchbark Books in 2001 with ‘a belief in the power of good writing, the beauty of handmade art, and the strength of Native culture,’” Reed said. “The Minneapolis-based bookstore is a place of celebration and honor for artists, whose work fills the lives of those who visit.”
The $50,000 award is the only prize of its kind given by United States Artists, a national nonprofit that provides funding to support artists. Since 2006, the organization has provided $36 million in direct support to 750 individuals, officials said. The prize is named for its co-founder and current board member, Susan V. Berresford, a former president of the Ford Foundation.
Erdrich said she is delighted by the award.
“Over the past 22 years that I've owned and worked with my family on this enterprise, I have marveled at the artistry that has passed through my hands,” Erdich said in a statement. “My vision was that we would serve to bring awareness to Indigenous writing, further Indigenous language revitalization, and that we would support artists by selling the beautiful and creative art that Native people make, often on isolated reservations.
“Over the years the bookstore has also become a place for artists and writers to find a job that brings them into a community. This prize will help us to more fully realize our vision.”
Erdrich has written 28 books that range from poetry to novels to children’s stories, that tell themes of the fight for sovereignty, justice and love.
She won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 2021 for novel, “The Night Watchman,” based on the life of her grandfather, who worked as a night watchman and fought dispossession of Indigenous people.
The Pulitzer judges described the book as “a majestic, polyphonic novel about a community’s efforts to halt the proposed displacement and elimination of several Native American tribes in the 1950s, rendered with dexterity and imagination.”
She was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 with her novel, “The Plague of Doves,” and her 2012 novel, “The Round House,” won the National Book Award for fiction.Her writing has also won the National Critics Circle Award for Fiction, the American Book Award, Guggenheim Fellowship, Word Fantasy Award and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction.
Born in 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota, Erdrich was raised in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Her mother, Rita Joanne Gourneau, was Ojibwe, and her father, Ralph Louis Erdrich was of German ancestry. Both of her parents taught at the same Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school.
As one of the first women admitted to Dartmouth College, Erdich majored in English and took courses in their Native American Studies program. In 1979, she earned a Master of Arts degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University.
Natalie Diaz, a United States Artists board member and 2014 USA Fellow, said Erdrich’s contribution through Birchbark Books is immeasurable.
“For many years Louise Erdrich has invited her readers to share the memories, stories, and dreams of her Indigenous and other characters in the brightly-loving and tenderly-complex communities and worlds of her poetry, short stories and novels,'' Diaz said in a statement.
“As one of the leading writers of our century, she has brought Indigenous pasts and futures to bear on the literary world, as well as constellated Indigenous presence into the considerations and imaginations of both the U.S. and global community through her books. Her devotion to language and to the power of story to gather us and as a tool by which we might tend one another toward abundantly livable lives is amplified and resounded through Birchbark Books, a labor of love and communal care, a true testament to the power of Indigenous values and imagination."
Birchbark Books and Native Arts carries titles by Native authors, sponsors readings by Native and non-Native writers, journalists, and historians, and is staffed by Native employees.
Our stories are worth telling. Our stories are worth sharing. Our stories are worth your support. Contribute $5 or $10 today to help ICT (formerly Indian Country Today) carry out its critical mission. Sign up for ICT’s free newsletter.