Dorris met his wife, Louise Erdrich, at a poetry reading at Dartmouth, where he had founded a Native American studies program. Dorris had already adopted three Native American children in the early 1970s, one of the first single men in America to be allowed to adopt children. The couple married in 1981 and had three children of their own. The two writers struggled to support their growing family until Erdrich won the Nelson Algren fiction prize in 1982, with an award of $5,000. The pair edited each others' work and sometimes wrote together. Both writers began winning prestigious awards for their work, stating with the Algren prize and accelerating after Erdrich's first novel Love Medicine (1984) won the Nationl Book Critics Award. Dorris published A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, a novel about three generations of Native American women, in 1987. The Broken Cord (1989), his nonfiction account of his adoptive son's fetal alcohol syndrome, became a bestseller and was made into a TV movie starring Jimmy Smits in 1992. His second novel, The Cloud Chamber, was published in 1997.
Erdrich and Dorris, who dedicated all their books to each other, seemed the perfect literary couple until Dorris took his own life in 1997. It turned out that Dorris was facing allegations of child abuse, which he denied. Meanwhile, Dorris had become deeply depressed, and the couple's marriage was unraveling--Erdrich had secretly been separated from Dorris for more than a year at the time of his death.