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SMSU legend Adrian Louis passes


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“Stone cold Minnesota may be the death of me.” Wrote Adrian Louis is his book of poems titled Evil Corn. On September 9, of 2018, at the age of 72, Louis’s claim came true. The details of his death have not been released yet, but he did pass away at Marshall Regional Medical Center.

The recent retiree of Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) was born in Nevada and was a member of the Lovelock Paiute Tribe. Later, he graduated from Brown University with his bachelor’s and MA in Creative Writing. He then moved to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota where he set his nationally acclaimed novel Skins, which was later made into a movie. He also taught at Oglala Lakota College. He began teaching at SMSU in 1999 and continued to work the next fifteen years until retiring in 2014. Louis also edited four native American newspapers, including the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today. He has authored Fire Water World, and written fiction pieces Wild Indians & Other Creatures and Skins.

Louis taught alongside literary titans like Bill Holmes (Boxelder Bug Variations), Philip Dacey (The Boy Under the Bed), and David Pichaske (Beowulf to Beatles; Approaches to Poetry). Of those three, Pichaske is now the last standing. On his door hangs a picture of Louis’s decorated office door, and on his desk lies the gift he was going to send Louis this Christmas.

“I really miss old A, that was pretty fun when he was here,” said Pichaske.

Another English professor at SMSU who Louis left an imprint on is Steve Pacheco who also had a poem dedicated to him in Evil Corn.

“I met Adrian years and years ago when he was a professor here. I had mailed him some of my work and he gave me honest feedback and we developed a friendship,” said Pacheco.

“He (Louis) really went into himself the last couple years he taught here (at SMSU). He had been disappearing more and more,” said Pichaske, “He was a lot like Bill Holmes his last couple of years. He was so alienated. He drove up to the back in the car, met the class and then cleared off.” Louis’s wife, Colleen, died when she was very young from early onset Dementia.

“His wife died young, and it was really tough on him” said Pichaske. Throughout Evil Corn Colleen is referenced often in most of Louis’s heart wrenching poems. One of the last poems in the book is titled “Ghost Dance song for Colleen”.

“My love we always believed in the Ghost Dance. Put your curled claw of a hand in mine. Let’s move into the shimmy line. Circle, circle, we’ll soon be fine, spinning towards oblivion, Elysium, the ghost road, home.” (Louis Evil Corn

It’s no secret Southwest Minnesota was not Louis’s favorite place in the world. And who can blame him. What is there to see in the miles and miles of corn besides the occasional islands of trees where farmers live? Louis himself titled SMSU the “College of the Corn”.

“I wake to my first harvest in southwest Minnesota and see that corn, the basic grain, the light of dark Indian stomachs has transformed from a life sustainer to a life destroyer.” (Louis). Both Pichaske and Pacheco had similar things to say about how Louis wrote.

“Adrian always tried to tell the truth, at least the way he saw it, said Pichaske and Pacheco said something similar, “Adrian was always brutally honest, and that’s one of the things I liked about him.”

Regardless of how he felt about the area or how the people from southwestern Minnesota felt about him, Louis death has taken a toll on many. If you go on Facebook and search his name you will find an outpouring of tributes and messages concerning his passing from Native American writer all over the country. Louis touched many in his 72 years on this earth and his work as a writer will not be forgotten.

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SMSU legend Adrian Louis passes