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Lise Erdrich

Lise Erdrich 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.

Short story collections

Night Train (Coffee House Press, 2008) 

Reviewed by Tania Hershman

Interview with Lise Erdrich

The Short Review: 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 writer.

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 Vestal Review.

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?

LE:  It 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?

LE: Not 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
collection, 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?

LE:That 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 it.

TSR: What are you working on now?

LE: 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.