was born in Minnesota, lives in Wahpeton, North Dakota, and has worked
in Indian health and education for over twenty years. A graduate of the
University of North Dakota and of Minnesota State University-Mankato,
she is the author of the children’s picture books Sacagawea and Bears
Make Rock Soup. Stories from Night Train, her first collection for
adults, have received many awards including the Minnesota Monthly
Tamarack Award, the Many Mountains Moving Flash Fiction Contest, and
Best of Show at the North Dakota State Fair, where the story “Zanimoo”
was exhibited between a pig and the pickles, jams, jellies and
preserves. Erdrich’s essays and stories have also appeared in several
journals and anthologies including Sister Nations: Native American
Women Writers on Community, and Visit Teepee Town: Native Writings
After the Detours.
with Lise Erdrich
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Lise Erdrich: I
could say twenty years, since that is when they first started to get
published here and there. It contains the artifacts of a young foolish
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
LE: Not at all. They
were experiments. I had expected that since they were rather brief and
idiosyncratic, some might end up peppered into some other longer more
cohesive manuscript(s). Then I finally just swept them up and saw that
they were their own thing. Whatever it is. “Slam fiction” is what one
reviewer called it, if flash fiction is not correct, although a few of
the pieces were published in flash fiction contests and venues such as
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
LE: They are in
alphabetical order. It turned out to be a collection of oddments, with
no real connection in mind, other than that letters make units of
meaning and then words and then story. I did choose which stories to
exclude based on that they seemed to belong in some other book. One or
two of those stayed in anyway.
TSR: What does the word "story"
mean to you?
can be just a sign, a track of any kind. Anything has a history. That
perpetuates a present and a future. If the incident leaves no time for
the generally prescribed conflict and complications and resolution,
there should be a residual question and related implications in place
of the standard plot and character development. If I were a scholar or
an academic or a critic, perhaps I would have learned different and
then be capable of dissecting a story.
TSR: Do you
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
so far. They very idea that anyone would read them is still too strange
for me. Recently the Kansas City Star listed 100 Noteworthy Books of
2008. Night Train
was in the short fiction section, which only proves to me that it has
been verified as being a book. In assembling the collection, I did
think as far as who might read books from Coffee House Press—college
and literary customers I assumed, but then lots of little old ladies
showed up at readings and bookstores, which delights me no end.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
anything at all?
DH: Aren’t you glad
you didn’t buy a pizza or a twelve-pack beer instead? Literature lasts,
or you can trade it back in.
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
doesn’t seem possible, but if it is true, I am glad not to disappoint
the publisher. Coffee House Press takes a risk on behalf of those who
write in non-traditional forms and who are under-represented in
published literature. I know it is difficult to get short fiction
published, even if you play by all the rules and do a beautiful job of
TSR: What are
you working on now?
A book of what is called “creative non-fiction” but without the baloney
conversations and confibulations and such which are apparently
tolerated in the ME-moir form. And another collection of stories and a
novel and a young adult novel and a children’s book and not a book of
poetry. And my regular daytime job and some odd jobs here and there and
my house and my children and my animals and my environment. Just the
usual stuff, what am I actually finishing might be the real question!
My non-fiction book got so fat it is apparently two different books, so
there is whittling and tweaking yet to be done. With enough effort on
my part it might be out in the next two-three years.
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
LE: The Last Communist Virgin by
Wang Ping. I love all her writing, in this book she understands the
riparian connections that a western mind might call mystical or
magical-realist, but without generally employing that style or the
usual clumsy tricks of many writers who try to pull it off. Gallatin Canyon by Tom McGuane. I just love the hell out of the way that guy tells a story, is all. A Gravestone Made of Wheat by Will Weaver, second time I read it, good book.