Adrian C. Louis

(1946 - 2018)

Poet and fiction writer Adrian C. Louis was born and raised in northern Nevada, the eldest of twelve siblings. An enrolled Lovelock Paiute tribe member, Louis was of mixed Indigenous and white descent. He published his first poem when he was a high school junior. He received both a BA in American literature and an MA in creative writing from Brown University.

Louis began his career as a journalist. He edited multiple Native newspapers, including Lakota Times, Talking Leaf, and Indian Country Today, and co-founded the Native American Journalists Association. In 1984, he entered the education sphere with a role teaching English and writing at South Dakota’s Oglala Lakota College, which he held until 1997. He then served as a professor of English at Minnesota State University from 1999 until his retirement in 2014.

Beginning with 1974’s The Indian Cheap Wine Seance (Gray Flannel Press, 1974), Louis authored 20 poetry books and chapbooks, as well as a short story collection, Wild Indians & Other Creatures (University of Nevada Press, 1996), and a novel, Skins (Crown, 1995). Skins became a feature film, released in 2002 after a premiere at Sundance Film Festival. 1989’s poetry collection Fire Water World (West End Press) won the San Francisco State University Poetry Center Book Award, and Ancient Acid Flashes Back (UN Press) garnered him the 2001 Writer of the Year award in poetry from Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. Logorrhea (Northwestern University Press) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry for 2006.

Direct and visceral, facing personal trauma and the struggles of life with unswerving honesty, Louis’s poetry has received high praise from leading lights throughout the poetry community. His admirers include Martín Espada, Paisley Rekdal, Hayden Carruth, and Joy Harjo, while Sherman Alexie has cited his work as the initial inspiration for his own writing career. He was honored with fellowships from the Bush Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Foundation, the South Dakota Arts Council, and the Nebraska Arts Council, and he was elected to the Nevada Writers’ Hall of Fame in 1999. Louis’ poetry was published in numerous anthologies and journals. He died in Marshall, Minnesota, in 2018.


Learn more about Adrian C. Louis

Video: Trevino Brings Plenty reads poems from Louis' book Electric Snakes

Text: Two poems by Louis in Willow Springs

Text: Sherman Alexie on the line by Louis that inspired him to become a writer