College Novel

Celebrating our 26th Year of the College Novel!

Image of the book The Painted DrumLouise Erdrich’s Novel, The Painted Drum

The College Novel for the 2018-2019 academic year is Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Drum. Members of the College Community are invited to read the novel and join in the activities, discussions, and lectures related to the novel. Many faculty members will use the novel in class. The goal of the college novel is to create a reading community and encourage reading for pleasure, critical thinking, global awareness, and multicultural understanding.

Workshops, colloquies, lectures (inside and outside the classroom) support this activity. Look for dates and times of the lectures that will be held during College Hour (10:50 am-12:05 pm) in the Student Handbook.

Through the use of a College-wide Novel, we unite the Sussex community in an effort to encourage reading as life long source of pleasure and learning. Each year faculty, students, and staff select a novel that will best suit. This year is the 26th anniversary of the College Novel at Sussex County Community College!

Dr. Eleanor Carducci, retired Professor of English at Sussex, began the College Novel tradition in 1993. The current College Novel coordinator, Dr. Mary Thompson, annually asks the faculty and staff at Sussex to nominate novels and then holds a meeting for people to advocate for their nominations. At the end of the meeting, the group narrows the field to two options and a student vote determines which novel will become the College Novel for the new academic year.

Helpful Resources

The eldest of seven children, Louise Erdrich was born in Little Falls, Minnesota on July 6, 1954. She grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota where her parents taught at the Bureau of Indian Affairs school. At an early age Erdrich was encouraged by her parents to write stories. Her father paid her a nickel a story and her mother made covers for her first books. In high school, Erdrich continued her writing by keeping a journal.

In 1972, Erdrich was among the first women admitted to Dartmouth College. She majored in English and creative writing, and took courses in the Native American Studies program headed by her future husband, Michael Dorris. She graduated in 1976.

In 1979, Erdrich earned her Master of Arts degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University. For her thesis Erdrich wrote poetry that would later be published in the collection Jacklight. She also began writing her novel Tracks. After John Hopkins, Erdrich worked at The Circle, the Boston Indian Council Newspaper.

Erdrich met Michael Dorris again when she was invited to return to Dartmouth to read her work. The two exchanged addresses and began a lengthy correspondence while he was in New Zealand and she in New Hampshire. In 1981 Erdrich returned to Dartmouth as a writer-in-residence in the Native American Studies Program. Dorris returned to Dartmouth that same year and the two were married in October of 1981.

Erdrich’s marriage to Dorris began not only a domestic partnership but also a literary one. Dorris became a collaborator and agent for Erdrich. The two first wrote romantic fiction under the name Milou North to earn extra money. Milou was a combination of their first names, and north referred to their location. They also collaborated on Erdrich’s other novels for which Dorris offered editorial suggestions on Erdrich’s writing. Only two works, however, contain both Erdrich’s and Dorris’s names, The Crown of Columbus and Route Two, a collection of travel essays.

As Erdrich’s agent, Dorris persuaded Henry Holt and Company to publish Jacklight and convinced Erdrich to compete for the Nelson Algren Fiction Award. Erdrich won this $5,000 award in 1982 with “The World’s Greatest Fisherman.” This story later became the opening chapter for Love Medicine.

Dorris had adopted three children when he was single. Erdrich also adopted them and the couple had three more children together. In 1991, their oldest child was killed in a car accident. Additional family problems put a strain on the marriage and the two separated after fifteen years of marriage. In 1997, Dorris committed suicide. Later Erdrich revealed that her husband had been depressed and suicidal during their marriage. Erdrich moved to Minneapolis, only a few hours away from her parents in North Dakota.

Erdrich’s fiction is influenced both by her heritage and her life experiences. Her father’s parents ran a butcher shop. Jacklight contains a section of poems entitled “The Butcher’s Wife.” A butcher shop is also featured in her novels The Beet Queen and Tracks. After college one of her many jobs was waitressing. Waitresses appear in several of her works.

Love Medicine is Erdrich’s first and most critically acclaimed novel. It was originally published in 1984 and republished in an expanded form in 1993. Erdrich received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Fiction for Love Medicine. It is the first of a series of novels that are interconnected with one another. The other novels are The Beet QueenTracksThe Bingo PalaceTales of Burning Love, and to a much lesser degree The Antelope Wife.

Erdrich has also won the Pushcart Prize in Poetry, the O. Henry Prize for short fiction, the Western Literary Association Award, received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and several of her stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories series. Erdrich’s short fiction has also appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, and Paris Review. She is one of few American Indian writers who are widely read.

Bibliography information taken from:
Jones, Daniel, and John D. Jorgenson, eds. Contemporary Authors. Vol. 62, New Revision Series. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1998, pp. 162-69.

Rosenberg, Ruth. “Louise Erdrich.” Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 152, American Novelists Since World War II, Fourth Series, edited by James R. Giles and Wanda H. Giles. A Bruccoli Layman Book, Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1995, pp. 42-50.

General Information about the Author

Reviews of The Painted Drum

Links to writings

Useful links regarding topics in the novel