San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

April 5th, 2012
Q&A: Mixed heritage inspires prolific author

Award-winning author Louise Erdrich will be in Kyle April 6 for a reading and book signing at the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center in historic downtown Kyle. Erdrich has written 13 novels and several collections of poems, many with themes and characters related to Native American heritage. Erdrich’s own background, being raised in North Dakota by a Native American mother and German American father, influenced her writing. COURTESY PHOTO


Living in North Dakota in the 1950s and ’60s as the daughter of a Chippewa Indian mother and a German-American father helped shape the literary voice of author Louise Erdrich. The exploration of both sides of her ancestry has inspired her short stories, poems and novels.

If you go…

What: Author Louise Erdrich is scheduled to read from her latest work, “The Round House”

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: The Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center, 508 Center St., Kyle.

Cost: The event is free and open to the public.

The award-winning writer read at Texas State’s Wittliff Collections today and will be at the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center in downtown Kyle on Friday to share her work from “The Round House,” a book scheduled for publication later this year.

“The book is about a boy and his mother, mainly – it is about how he eventually must seek vengeance for something that is done to his mother,” Erdrich said in a recent email exchange. “The book is also about friendships between boys, serious ridiculous things boys do, and about a grave injustice.”

Though born in Little Falls, Minnesota, Erdrich grew up in North Dakota where her parents taught at a school run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She 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.

Erdrich answered questions about her work, her inspiration and what she is working on next.

Hays Free Press: Where do you most often find inspiration for your writing?

Erdrich: My inspirations come from almost every place – thin air, small town newspapers, overheard conversation, suggestions, thin air! But the inspiration is just a way of saying “image.” The rest is lots of muddling around trying to get the words and narrative to come out right.

The characters in my novels are not always of Native descent. I write from various perspectives – it is as if the characters announce themselves. I am from a small town with Native and non-native people, so I remember many sorts of people.

HFP: You’ve been at this for 30 years…do you still have more stories to tell?

Erdrich: It doesn’t seem that long – I still feel that I am just beginning at this, and of course, every time I start a story that is true. I hope I’ll have enough time on earth to write all of the stories and books I’ve made notes on and want to write.

I am working on science fiction because that’s what I read in high school – I’ve always loved speculative fiction. But I think my favorite science fiction book of recent years is “Never Let Me Go.” I also like “IQ84.”

So science fiction is on my to-write list, as well as stories I haven’t gotten around to yet because they’re vague and unfocused.

HFP: Are your stories autobiographical in nature?

Erdrich: Life experience shapes my work but nothing is autobiographical. That doesn’t make sense to lots of people, but a story can be emotionally real without sticking to the facts of an experience. So I extrapolate often from a small experience and put myself into a larger story as some character or another. The main thing is to identify with every single character, which is sometimes difficult.

HFP: Is bittersweetness in most of your work? Does that reflect your life in some way? Or it is just life?

Erdrich: That’s my favorite kind of chocolate. I don’t know if it is in my work!

Erdrich’s novels include “Love Medicine” (1984), “The Beet Queen” (1986), “Tracks” (1988), “The Bingo Palace” (1994), “Tales of Burning Love” (1997), “The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse” (2001), and “Four Souls” (2004), each part of a story of three interrelated families living in and around a reservation in the fictional town of Argus, North Dakota, from 1912 through the present.

Erdrich has also published three critically acclaimed collections of poetry, Jacklight (1984), Baptism of Desire (1989) and Original Fire: New and Selected Poems (2003).

KIM HILSENBECK reports for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.

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