Erdrich grew up in North Dakota, where her parents taught at a school run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Erdrich attended Dartmouth College, part of the first class of women admitted to the college; her freshman year also coincided with the establishment of the Native-American studies department.
There were lots of people with mixed blood, lots of people who had their own confusions.
I realized that this was part of my life—it wasn’t something that I was making up—and that it was something I to write about.” In 1978, the author enrolled in an M. program at Johns Hopkins University, where she wrote poems and stories incorporating her heritage, many of which would later become part of her books.
In Donna Seaman noted “Erdrich’s fecund poems are seedbeds for her acclaimed novels,” adding: “Deeply attuned to the sacred as it is manifest in everything from sunlight to stones to water to plants and animals, Erdrich grapples with both Native American and Christian beliefs, and the conflicts ignited by the friction between them, in poems of sweet gratitude, voluptuous ecstasy, cutting satire, seething grief, and fiery resolve.” A reviewer for noted Erdrich’s influences (Richard Hugo and Louise Glück), but added “Erdrich’s particular landscapes and affiliations, and her way with myths and talismans, ensure that her poems, new and old, retain strengths all their own.” Undoubtedly, though, it is as a novelist that Erdrich is best known.
Over the course of a dozen award-winning and best-selling novels, Erdrich has carved out an important place for herself and her work in contemporary American fiction.
In his class, Erdrich began the exploration of her own ancestry that would eventually inspire her poems, short stories and novels.
Intent on balancing her academic training with a broad range of practical knowledge, Erdrich told Miriam Berkley in an interview with “I ended up taking some really crazy jobs, and I’m glad I did.
She has given us a wonderfully sad, funny and affecting novel.” Though many of Erdrich’s novels involve the same revolving cast of characters, in (2003), Erdrich focused on the European half of her ancestry, telling the stories of a World War I veteran, his wife and a large cast of characters in a small North Dakota town.
The book was a finalist for the National Book Award finalist.