Year
1954

Louise Erdrich is born

Award-winning novelist Louise Erdrich is born on this day in Little Falls, Minnesota.

Erdrich’s Native American heritage became a dominant theme in her novels, which explored the lives of American Indian families. Her grandfather was tribal chairman for the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, and Erdrich was raised in the nearby town of Wahpeton, where her parents taught at a boarding school for Native American children run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Erdrich took a B.A. at Dartmouth College, where she met her future husband, Michael Dorris, who was also part Native American, descended from Modoc Indians from Kentucky. She earned her master’s degree at Johns Hopkins. At various times, she worked as a field hand, a highway construction worker, a waitress, a lifeguard, and the editor of a paper for Native Americans in Boston. She and Dorris married and adopted three children. They later had three of their own as well, and struggled to support their growing family until Erdrich won the prestigious Nelson Algren fiction prize in 1982, with an award of $5,000. The award-winning story grew into her first novel, Love Medicine (1984), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Erdrich’s subsequent books, including The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988), The Bingo Palace (1994), and Tales of Burning Love (1996), were critical and popular successes. Meanwhile, Dorris’ writing was also winning awards and gaining recognition.

The pair, who dedicated all their books to each other, seemed the perfect literary couple until Dorris committed suicide in 1997. Dorris was about to be indicted for sexually and physically abusing their children. Erdrich had secretly been separated from Dorris for more than a year at the time of his death.

Her 1998 novel The Antelope Wife features a deteriorating marriage and a husband who slides into drunkenness and self-pity before shooting himself. In the book’s dedication, she was careful to make it clear that the subject matter was not based on Dorris’ life. It read, “This book was written before the death of my husband.”

Many of Erdrich’s later works–including The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003), The Plague of Doves (2008), and Shadow Tag (2010)–draw on her multiethnic background and address issues of family, community, and history. The Plague of Doves was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2009.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Battle of Midway ends

On June 7, 1942, the Battle of Midway–one of the most decisive U.S. victories in its war against Japan–comes to an end. In the four-day sea and air battle, the outnumbered U.S. Pacific Fleet succeeded in destroying four Japanese aircraft carriers with the loss of only one of its ...read more

British king visits U.S.

King George VI becomes the first British monarch to visit the United States when he and his wife, Elizabeth, cross the Canadian-U.S. border to Niagara Falls, New York. The royal couple subsequently visited New York City and Washington, D.C., where they called for a greater U.S. ...read more

First successful ascent of Mt. McKinley

On this day in 1913, Hudson Stuck, an Alaskan missionary, leads the first successful ascent of Mt. McKinley, the highest point on the American continent at 20,320 feet.Stuck, an accomplished amateur mountaineer, was born in London in 1863. After moving to the United States, in ...read more

Westmoreland requests 44 battalions

General Westmoreland requests a total of 35 battalions of combat troops, with another nine in reserve. This gave rise to the “44 battalion” debate within the Johnson administration, a discussion of how many U.S. combat troops to commit to the war. Westmoreland felt that the South ...read more

Bo Jackson drafted by Kansas City Royals

On June 7, 1986, the Kansas City Royals draft football star Bo Jackson, the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner out of Auburn University, in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft. Jackson’s decision to pursue baseball instead of football shocked the NFL and football ...read more

Reagan nominated for governor of California

A former actor named Ronald Reagan receives the Republican nomination for governor of California on this day in 1966. He won the election that November and was sworn in on January 2, 1967. Reagan’s tenure as the Golden State’s governor gave him credibility as a political leader, ...read more

Jean Harlow dies

On this day in 1937, Hollywood is shocked to learn of the sudden and tragic death of the actress Jean Harlow, who succumbs to uremic poisioning (now better known as acute renal failure, or acute kidney failure) at the age of 26.Born Harlean Carpenter in Kansas City, Missouri, she ...read more

Earthquake destroys Jamaican pirate haven

On this day in 1692, a massive earthquake devastates the infamous town of Port Royal in Jamaica, killing thousands. The strong tremors, soil liquefaction and a tsunami brought on by the earthquake combined to destroy the entire town. Port Royal was built on a small island off ...read more

Czechoslovakian president Benes resigns

Eduard Benes resigns as president of Czechoslovakia rather than sign a new constitution that would make his nation into a communist state. His resignation removed the last remnant of democratic government in Czechoslovakia and cleared the way for a communist-controlled regime. ...read more

Rebels turned back at Milliken’s Bend

A Confederate attempt to rescue Vicksburg and a Rebel garrison held back by Union forces to the east of the city fails when Union troops turn back the attack at the Battle of Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana. By late May 1863, Union General Ulysses S. Grant had surrounded Vicksburg, ...read more