Louise Erdrich wins Library of Congress fiction prize

Author Louise Erdrich
Author Louise Erdrich.
Photo by Paul Emmel, courtesy Harper Collins 2012

Minnesota author Louise Erdrich will be awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction.

Erdrich is the author of children's stories, poetry and novels, including "The Round House," "Love Medicine" and "The Plague of Doves." She's best known for her stories featuring American Indian characters and culture.

Librarian of Congress James Billington said in a statement that Erdrich's novels have uniquely explored the cultural challenges faced by Native Americans and mixed-race Americans.

"[H]er 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," Billington said. "And yet, for all the bracing originality of her work, her fiction is deeply rooted in the American literary tradition."

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Erdrich was born in 1954 in Little Falls, Minn., and is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. She owns a small, independent bookstore called Birchbark Books in Minneapolis.

"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 a 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."

Erdrich said it would have surprised both grandparents to think of her, "skinny and tongue-tied," amounting to anything. But that it was her family's spirit that is responsible for her success.

The prize will be awarded to Erdrich on Sept. 5 at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington D.C.

The Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction is "meant to honor 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." Previous winners of the fiction prize include novelists E.L. Doctorow and Don Delillo.