Louise Erdrich '76 wins National Book Award

by Jackie Donohoe | 11/13/12 4:00pm

Louise Erdrich '76 received the National Book Award a prestigious award whose previous recipients include Ray Bradbury, Judy Blume and Tom Wolfe for her fiction novel "The Round House" on Wednesday. Erdrich, who graduated in the first full coeducational class at the College, returned most recently to Hanover as a Montgomery Fellow last spring and has been compared to authors such as William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

"Erdrich is one of the most important, prolific, influential and captivating voices in contemporary American literature today," Native American studies professor Melanie Benson-Taylor previously said in an interview. "I didn't say Native American literature' because her significance is, and should be, appreciated in much wider terms."

A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Erdrich has gained acclaim for her conflicted narratives, which highlight the problems Indians face on reservations in contemporary society. She believes in the philosophy "write what you know," she previously said in an interview. Erdrich's first novel, "Love Medicine," was awarded the 1984 National Books Critics Circle Award, and her 2009 novel "The Plague of Doves" was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Set on a reservation in North Dakota in 1988, "The Round House" is a bildungsroman that follows the development of a young protagonist, Joe Coutts, as he seeks retribution for his mother's rape. In his journey, he discovers the double standards of law, as they are not always applied to defend but sometimes to discriminate.

"This novel is about, in broad terms, an issue that is extremely timely but it's been timely for a long time it's about the rape and abuse of women in Indian country and the difficulty that there is in prosecuting these cases," Erdrich said in her acceptance speech on Wednesday. "The situation there is absolutely abysmal for women."

Creative writing professor Cynthia Huntington was also a finalist in the National Book Award in the poetry category for her book of poems, "The Heavenly Bodies."