February 13, 2013
The blizzard this past weekend made me think of Argus, North Dakota. Louise Erdrich’s country.
Love Medicine opens with a blizzard: “The snow feel deeper that Easter than it had for forty years, but June walked over it like water and came home.” In The Beet Queen, if Wallace Pfef had not found Celestine and Dot, in the morning mother and baby would have been “huddled tight against” the “red snow fence like the foolish pheasants… drifted out of snow, their feathers lit with such a warm and iridescent glow it seems impossible for them to be frozen, as though the burning colors should keep them warm.”
The 2012 National Book Award did not celebrate Erdrich as a Global North author, and in fact there’s no such category. Yet it’s odd that everyone this year seems to fit that description. Katherine Boo (writing about Mumbai slums in “Beyond the Beautiful Forevers”) is of Swedish origins, born of Minnesotan parents, and now married to Sunil Khilnani, director of the India Institute at King’s College London. Erdrich herself is now living in Minneapolis, along with William Alexander, who won in Young People’s Literature for “Goblin Secrets.” David Ferry, longtime Boston resident finally scoring what he calls his “pre-posthumous” win, has of course always been a translator as well as a poet, which is what he does in “Bewilderment.”
The Global North is sometimes another name for the Global South. Still, there’s an advantage to keeping the word “North” in the vocabulary. I’m sure none of this was remotely on the minds of the judges. No matter, I like the outcome.