My Life: Siri Hustvedt
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Siri Hustvedt

Siri Hustvedt


Siri Hustvedt was born February 19, 1955 in Northfield, a small town in southern Minnesota, to a Norwegian mother, Ester Vegan Hustvedt, and an American father, Lloyd  Hustvedt. Ester had moved to the United States from Norway only a year earlier to marry Lloyd, a young professor she had met at the University of Oslo. Although Lloyd was a third generation Norwegian American—his grandparents were immigrants—he spoke Norwegian fluently. Norwegian was Siri’s first language, one she still speaks.

Most of her early life was spent in Northfield with her parents and three younger sisters, Liv, Asti, and Ingrid. She and her sisters attended local public schools. Ester stayed home with her children but later worked as a French instructor and in the library at St. Olaf College. Siri’s father taught Norwegian language and literature at St. Olaf and was the first King Olav V professor of Norwegian studies. He became Executive Secretary of The Norwegian American Historical Association, an unpaid position, to which he devoted four decades of his life. The Association was a repository for a vast archive of immigrant letters, documents, diaries, newspapers, recipes, and books, few of which had been put into order when Lloyd took over the job. He spent countless hours in Rolvaag Library at St. Olaf, documenting the archive materials. In 1966, he won the McKnight Prize for Literature for his biography of Rasmus Björn Anderson, a Norwegian American scholar and publisher. In 1980 he was awarded the Order of St. Olav, Knight First Class by the King Olav V. In 1985, he was the first American to be recognized by the America-Norway Heritage Fund for his contributions to Norwegian American understanding and for preserving the history of Norwegian immigrants in the United States. He died February 2, 2004.  Ester still lives in Northfield.

Dad, Siri, Liv

Dad, Siri, Liv

Siri first visited Norway in 1959 when her mother took her and her sister Liv for a summer visit. In the academic year 1967/68, the family lived in Bergen. The four girls were enrolled in the Rudolph Steiner School and spent the following summer in Reykjavik, Iceland, where Lloyd was studying the sagas. According to the autobiographical essay “Extracts from a Story of the Wounded Self,” she read voluminously during that summer and began to think seriously of becoming a writer. She continued intensive reading and wrote poetry during her high school years.

In 1972, she returned to Bergen to live with her mother’s sister and her husband and spent a year as a student at the gymnasium, Katedral Skolen and graduated with an Artium degree. She returned to the United States, attended St. Olaf College and graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in history in 1977.

She worked for a year in her hometown as a bartender, saved money, and headed for New York City in 1978 to study English at Columbia University on a fellowship. She continued to write poetry, was a research assistant to the poet Kenneth Koch, a professor of English at Columbia, and worked at a number of odd jobs: waitress, researcher to a medical historian, department store model, and artist’s studio assistant. In 1982 she began teaching as a graduate assistant at Queens College. Her first published poem appeared in The Paris Review in 1981.

Later that same year, she met the writer Paul Auster at a poetry reading at the 92nd Street Y.  She married him on Bloom’s Day, June 16, 1982. In 1983, she published a small book of poems Reading to You with Station Hill Press.

In the spring of 1986, Hustvedt received her PhD. She wrote her dissertation on Dickens: “Figures of Dust: Language and Identity in Charles Dickens.”

Siri Hustvedt and Paul Auster’s daughter Sophie Hustvedt Auster was born on July 6, 1987.

FICTION: After finishing her doctorate, she turned to fiction and began work on her first novel, The Blindfold, two sections of which were published in literary magazines as stories and later reprinted in Best American Short Stories 1991 and 1992. The novel was published in the United States by the now defunct Poseidon Press in 1992 and was translated into seventeen languages.

Hustvedt has published three more novels The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, What I Loved, and The Sorrows of an American. What I Loved, published in 2003, was an international bestseller. Her fifth novel The Summer Without Men will be published in 2011. Her novels have now been translated into twenty-nine languages.


She began writing about art in the 1995 when Karen Wright, then the publisher of Modern Painters asked her to choose a single painting in the exhibition Johannes Vermeer at the National Gallery in Washington. That essay “Vermeer’s Annunciation” argued for a reading of Woman with a Pearl Necklace as an Annunciation rather than a Eucharistic image and permanently altered scholarly perceptions of the image. She has continued to write about art and, in 2006, published a collection of her writing on art with Princeton Architectural Press, Mysteries of the Rectangle. Besides the pieces in that volume, she has written catalogue essays for Richard Allen Morris, Kiki Smith, and Gerhard Richter, published essays on Louise Bourgeois and Annette Messager for The Guardian newspaper in London, and lectured at the Prado and Metropolitan Museums. In January 2010 she will be the Schelling Professor of Art at the Akademie der Bildenen Kunste (The Academy of the Visual Arts) in Munich.


Hustvedt has had migraines and their accompanying auras since childhood and has long been fascinated by psychoanalysis, neurology, and psychiatry. In recent years, with the explosion of research on the brain, she has become increasingly absorbed by neuroscience. She began attending the neuroscience lectures at The New York Psychoanalytic Institute in New York and was subsequently invited by Mark Solms to attend the Mortimer Ostow Neuropsychoanalysis Discussion Group, which she attended for two years until the group was disbanded after Ostow’s death in 2006. She also began volunteering as a writing instructor for psychiatric in-patients at The Payne Whitney Clinic at New York Hospital. In 2008, she contributed three short essays to a Migraine blog for The New York Times on line. She is now a member of a neuropsychoanalysis group led by Maggie Zellner that meets every other week at Rockefeller University. In 2004, she developed a seizure disorder, which is the subject of her book: The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves. This neurological memoir is both a personal account of Hustvedt’s experience as a patient and an exploration of the ambiguities of diagnosis through the lenses of medical history, neurology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and philosophy.

For a more extensive autobiography, see “Extracts From a Story of the Wounded Self” in the essay collection A Pleas for Eros.