Louise Erdrich

in conversation with Ann Patchett

Recorded July 26th, 2020

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Louise Erdrich in Conversation with Ann Patchett
Sunday, July 26, 2020

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Louise Erdrich’s powerful novel The Night Watchman is based on the extraordinary life of her grandfather, who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C.

Louise is the author of fifteen novels as well as volumes of poetry, children’s books, short stories, and a memoir of early motherhood. The Round House won the National Book Award for Fiction. The Plague of Doves won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and her debut novel, Love Medicine, was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has received the Library of Congress Prize in American Fiction, the prestigious PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Louise lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.

Ann Patchett the author The Dutch House, The Patron Saint of Liars, Taft, The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, RunState of Wonder, and Commonwealth. She was the editor of Best American Short Stories, 2006, and has written three books of nonfiction–Truth & Beauty, about her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy, What Now? an expansion of her graduation address at Sarah Lawrence College, and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a collection of essays examining the theme of commitment. In 2019, she published her first children’s book, Lambslide, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser.

In November, 2011, Ann opened Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, with her business partner Karen Hayes.  She has since become a spokesperson for independent booksellers, championing books and bookstores on NPR, The Colbert Report (including the series finale), Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, The Martha Stewart Show, and The CBS Early Show, among many others. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Karl VanDevender, and their dog, Sparky.

When we are young, the words are scattered all around us.

As they are assembled by experience, so also are we, sentence by sentence, until the story takes shape.”

– Louise Erdrich

Get ready to join Louise in conversation, Sunday, July 26th.

In the meantime, we invite you to take a moment now to help shape this upcoming conversation.

Check out the list of questions submitted by other registered attendees, and then vote to support any that match your interests.

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  • 10

    votes

    What is the last book you read that moved you?

  • 6

    votes

    Who are some of your favorite authors, whether fiction or non-fiction, and have they influenced your writing?

  • 6

    votes

    How has your independent bookstore been affected during the pandemic and subsequently by the protests against police brutality in Minneapolis?

  • 5

    votes

    Both your novels capture me with your characters. I get lost in their lives. Can either of you tell us how you learned to do that: develop characters so compelling?

  • 5

    votes

    How much do you allow characters to define themselves and evolve? Do they arrive in your imagination fully formed or are they amalgams of people you have encountered?

  • 4

    votes

    In an interview with NPR you said, “I grew up knowing who I was and accepting all parts of myself. And this is a part that I realized would not have existed had my grandfather not fought for it”. Was this your inspiration for writing The Night Watchman?

  • 4

    votes

    What was the writing process like writing The Night Watchman? Did you rely on historical accounts and research? Your own family history? What was the process like of integrating the two?

  • 3

    votes

    Which book was the most difficult one for you to write? Which one brought you the most joy?

  • 3

    votes

    Have you considered writing a novel based on the MMIW crisis?

  • 3

    votes

    For Ann: I have read Commonwealth and The Dutch House. Both books have blended type families. Where do you come up with such family dram? Any of these stories from personal experience?

  • 3

    votes

    Would either of you like to comment on current political climate-BLM uprisings? journalists targeted? Fed mercenaries attacking civilians?

  • 2

    votes

    How did you decide to write about your grandfather in a novel versus a non-fiction biography?

  • 2

    votes

    Can you comment on your experience writing your debut novel, Love Medicine… as a new writer well into a first draft – how did you go about writing the first draft, what major revisions (if any) did YOU make before submitting it to an agent or editor – what add’l major revisions (if any) were requested by the editor. I’m intrigued by the process of getting from a first draft to that published work. Thanks!

  • 2

    votes

    What draws you to the dystopian genre vs historical fiction? How do each of these genres make a political statement? Is all your writing political?

  • 1

    votes

    Ann, I am a Sarah Lawrence mom! Thanks for your great commencement speech in 2006 when My-Daughter-The-Writer graduated. Bel Canto is and extraordinary story which I’ve read several times. How do you compare your other books to it?

  • 1

    votes

    When I asked you about the gas fracking boom in North Dakota, you said, “It looks like Mordor. You can see the flares from outer space,” and The Round House dealt with family, community and sexual violence. Do you consider your work in The Night Watchman and your novels “political?” How or how not? Thank you, Wyndy Knox Carr, formerly Benevolent Despot of The Mother Lode Book and Women’s Center, Mpls.

  • 1

    votes

    Have you ever spent time on the Turtle Mountain Reservation?

  • 1

    votes

    What author makes you laugh? We all really need it now.

  • 1

    votes

    How has your writing routine / process been impacted by COVID, if at all?

  • 1

    votes

    thank you for your the beautiful voices and character development in your novels. Can you comment on how the characters live in you?

  • 1

    votes

    Louise: I am rereading Love Medicine and Bingo Palace and wonder if you have any plans to extend the lives of some of those characters further forward in time. Related question: in the broad geography of your work and imagination, do you have a sense –if only you could live long enough–of how far your literary geography could reach? How that would look or how far it would extend? Of course that could be endless, but are there stories you still long to tell than fit into an imaginative whole? Or do books come one by one?

  • 1

    votes

    Louise, Books & Islands is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read! Do you get back to the Lake of the Woods? Does it always feel like the same experience?

  • 0

    votes

    Who is the artist who did the beautiful picture on the wall behind you on camera.
    Thanks, Kate Wolf-Pizor

  • 0

    votes

    Louise: I love all the characters in your novels: Lipsha and Fleur are my favorites. I wonder if you can recommend a specific order in which to ready your novels to get the full effects of their connections.

  • 0

    votes

    Do you start your day with writing?

  • 0

    votes

    How much is historical fiction and how much is fact…..which is majority

  • 0

    votes

    I am a writer who works for an all-girls middle and high school by day. Our community has a great love of reading, and we have several book clubs on campus as well as regular reading time. (We just finished reading The Dutch House for our alumnae book club.) As Ann said, these young women are great leaders. What advice do Ann and Louise have for our students as they find their voice during these tumultuous times?

  • 0

    votes

    I enjoyed the legal aspects of The Round House (and other writings). Do you have a legal background and what kind of legal research do you conduct?

  • 0

    votes

    Louise, Thank YOU! for your sensitivity as well as your marriage of memory with fact. Have you visited any of New Mexico’s pueblos?
    In summer of 1976, I lived with the Zuni as well as felt honored to
    climb Dowa Yalanne (Thunder/Corn Mt.) At 73, my Zuni summer
    crests above my many life’s memories.

  • 0

    votes

    Hello from Portland! Thank you for your comments. Louise–I’m interested in any comments you might make about fear and being fearless in the face of obstacles and how that might move us to fight injustice? Either in the current political context and/or in your grandfather’s life.