Elegant, luminous, charismatic, funny, curious, empathetic… A firework of adjectives comes to mind when sharing a moment with Louise Erdrich. A sensation similar to that which one feels upon entering his teeming literary universe. His attentive listening and gaze also arouse a deep feeling of gentleness and humility, specific to those who no longer have anything to prove.
At 67, this writer is to Native Americans what Toni Morrison is to African Americans: an emblematic figure of this burgeoning literature. We owe him novels like The Antelope Bride (2002), Latest Miracle Report at Little No Horse (2003), The Curse of the Doves (2010), or even In the silence of the wind (2013) (1).
A protean work
Novelist, poet, author of children’s books, passionate bookseller, her protean work has been distinguished by multiple awards throughout her career. His latest book, The one who watcheswon the prestigious 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. A polyphonic novel, it takes place on the Ojibwa reservation of Turtle Mountain, North Dakota, in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather and his fight for the rights of his family. community.
This literate militant was at the time the representative of this territory. This place where Louise Erdrich grew up is present in most of her novels since her first, Sorcerer’s Love,published in 1984 in the United States. She is so attached to it that she has made it a recurring literary territory.
“I am often asked why I always come back to it in my books, she explains, reached by telephone. Maybe it’s because that reserve made me who I am today. It is the cradle of all my experiences. Even though, she immediately adds, I am of mixed origins. » Franco-Ojibwa by his mother, German by his father.
Interbreeding and duality
The mixing of identities, the duality between traditional religion and Catholicism are other themes for Louise Erdrich who, for forty years, has explored her universe with humor, modesty, empathy, mixing the real and the supernatural, the past and the present. in novels that are often anachronistic, such as traditional Ojibwa tales can be.
His parents worked for Indian Affairs on the Turtle Mountain Reservation. “We were a family of seven brothers and sisters united by the same desire to promote and defend the traditional culture of our ancestors and to pass it on to the following generations”, she points out.
This mission is vital, insists Louise Erdrich, “especially in this country which has never stopped doing everything to make us disappear”. To avoid this, she plays with her pen, producing a dancing, cutting prose, born from the encounter of marvelous tales and magical realism. “My goal is not to do ethnography but to tell stories that allow us to discover the myths hidden in the depths of everyday life. »
His novels are an anthology of tribal, family and personal memories. Each character has its chapter and a specific voice with a literary style that echoes Faulkner. We meet a multitude of wildly endearing characters, with a contagious thirst for life despite the scourges that plague Indian communities.
An atypical bookstore in Minneapolis
Louise experienced her share of pain with the loss of a child in 1991. But she never gave up the desire to write. “To convey, she says. To bring this reserve and its inhabitants out of oblivion. To pay homage to them, to bring their culture, my culture to life, even if I belong to many. »
She is also leading this fight in her atypical bookstore in Minneapolis, created in 2001 with her sister Heidi. On the shelves, the books she loves and promotes mingle with bags of wild rice, dream catchers and other traditional objects. She named it Birch Bark, literally “birch bark”, because it was an essential raw material for the American Indians.
As for the art of storytelling, the novelist is eternally grateful to her father, a teacher, crazy about Shakespeare, an insatiable storyteller who encouraged his seven children to write: “He gave me a coin every time I wrote a story, and my mother bound my manuscripts into books. From an early age, I had the feeling of being a published writer, who earned a lot of royalties…”she remembers with a smile.
His inspiration: the letters of his grandfather
“The main character of my novel, He who watches, is inspired by my Ojibwa grandfather Patrick Gourneau. A night watchman, he was also a representative of the Turtle Mountain tribe. He spent his nights writing letters, which I inherited and which I read and reread before and during the writing of this novel. They are even at its origin since he recounts his fight in 1953 against the Mormon senator at the origin of a so-called law of “termination”, or assimilation. My grandfather was a good, generous man. A literate activist who got so involved in this fight that he ended up dying of exhaustion. This novel pays homage to him for this fight that he ended up winning despite the very small means at his disposal with the other members of our community. »
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Louise Erdrich, writing to bring life