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. Most of her early life was spent in Northfield with her parents and three younger sisters, Liv, Asti [the scholar and author of Medical Muses], 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. Lloyd Hustvedt 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.
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. In the autobiographical essay "Extracts From the Story of a Wounded Self," she describes her voluminous reading over that summer and her decision to become a writer. She continued her intensive reading and wrote poetry and stories 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 Cathedral School 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 poem appeared in The Paris Review 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 defended her doctoral dissertation on language and identity in Dickens: “Figures of Dust:A Reading of Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend.”The dissertation turned on Dickens' use of pronouns, metaphor,and images of fragmentation as they relate to a vision of the self, concerns that have continued to occupy Hustvedt in both her fiction and non fiction.In the dissertation, she drew on the work of Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, Emile Benveniste, Roman Jakobson, Mary Douglas, and Paul Ricoeur among others.
Hustvedt and Auster’s daughter, the singer-songwriter Sophie Hustvedt Auster was born on July 6, 1987.