Louise Erdrich

The PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction goes to a living American author whose scale of achievement in fiction, over a sustained career, places him or her in the highest rank of American literature. The winner receives a prize of $25,000.


Edwidge Danticat, E.L. Doctorow, and Zadie Smith

From the Judges’ Citation

Some writers work a small piece of land: Louise Erdrich is not one of those writers. Her work has an awesome capaciousness – each person is a world. For Erdrich, the tale of the individual necessarily leads to the tale of the family, and families lead to nations, while the wound of a national injustice is passed down through the generations, expressing itself in intimate deformations, a heady intertwining of the national and the personal. Yet despite the often depressingly familiar, repetitive nature of so much human business, Erdrich’s eye is always fresh, her sentences never less than lyrical. As we hear from the character Lipsha Morrisey, in her stereophonic 1984 debut, Love Medicine:

“So many things in the world have happened before. But it’s like they never did. Every new thing that happens to a person, it’s a first. To be a son to a father was like that. In that night I felt expansion, as if the world was branching out in shoots and growing faster than the eye could see.” 

Everything under the sun is new to Erdrich: the secrets that run in families, the arrival of flowers in spring, the steady accumulation of births and deaths. She both attests to these natural cycles and describes our unique predicaments within them. Never a generalist, her work is always local, and precise. As Faulkner had his Yoknapatawpha, so North Dakota has, for thirty years, provided a home for Erdrich’s restless imagination – and yet what a vast embrace is this author’s! Pursuing the seeds of her own lineage she has drawn comprehensive portraits of Native American life, followed German immigrants in cramped boats across the Atlantic, and delved inwards, right back to conception, in her wonderful non-fiction account of childbearing, The Blue Jay’s Dance. Read in full she dazzles as a writer of all times and all places, following those branching shoots of story wherever they sprout. She is a writer only America could have produced, committed to the extraordinary project of capturing a complex land and a various people in their own voices, and in hers.”

Previous winners

Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, and E. L. Doctorow.

Click here for additional information on the award.