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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Literary “Power Couple” Stops by Northfield

< spending three days in Northfield, acclaimed authors (and literary “power couple”) Siri Hustvedt and her husband, Paul Aster, spent three days in Northfield last week—enough time for Hustedt to deliver last Friday’s convocation, and provide joint reading of both her latest work, The Summer Without Men (Picador, 2011) and her husband’s, Winter Journal (Henry Holt and Co., 2012).

The reading, which took place on Wednesday in the Great Hall, was followed by a book signing and Q & A Session with the authors. Auster also offered a personal workship with student writers.

The trip had personal significance for Hustvedt because she is a graduate of both Northfield High School and St. Olaf College. Hustvedt’s father, the late Lloyd Hustvedt, was also chair of the Department of Norwegian at St. Olaf.
Throughout their residency, Hustvedt and Auster served as the Christopher U. Light Lecturer in Literature and the Fred W. and Margaret C. Schuster Distinguished Visiting Lecturer in Literature, respectively.

Hustvedt has written five novels, two books of essays, and a book of poetry. She also has a recent nonfiction work, titled A Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves (Picador, 2010), which explores her own seizure disorder from a more interdisciplinary approach—a sort of “neurological memoir”. Part of the book also focused on the nature of memory, and Hustvedt’s belief that it is shifting, rather than fixed.

Auster has also written over a dozen novels, as well as five screenplays and several memoirs and books of poetry. Last Wednesday, he led a master class at Carleton, in which he discussed writing and critiqued two students’ short stories. He began the class by reading two well-known short stories: Kleist’s Earthquake in Chile and Babel’s Guy de Maupassant.

Students in attendance were impressed by Auster’s presence as a reader. “The two works from which he read out loud…were both marked with a bold authorial voice. At least they felt that way when I heard Auster read them,” said Aditya Menon ’13, who attended the event.

Auster also provided students with the unique opportunity to submit their own short stories for critique. He focused most of his critique on “literary boldness” and “narrative propulsion,” the latter of which he defined as “works in which every word is contributing to the effect that you are trying to achieve.”

Generally, he gave positive critique to the students works, although he focused on whether their works truly had narrative presence. “Half of writing is crossing something out and throwing away crumpled pieces of paper,” he told the students.

Students also seemed to appreciate the advice that he gave. “His comments on grammar did make me think about my stories in a bigger context—the context of English Literature, which was a bit scary,” said Ellit Schmidt ’14.

Still, she appreciated the opportunity to meet with a professional writer.
“Overally, the experience was inspiring—if I ever want to be a writer, I know that I have a long way to go,” she said. “It’s comforting to know that the ‘way’ seems to be convoluted and confusing for even well-known writers.”

Avery Rux ’15 agreed, adding that Auster’s advice was helpful given that much of the writing that students do for their classes is academic in nature. “He stressed the clarity and precision that short story writers need to employ to be successful,” said Rux. “This is an unfamiliar idea to students like me who are used to churning out long-winded ideas for classes.”

Hustvedt and Auster also spoke at St. Olaf College on Thursday, providing a guided, public talk in the style of NPR’s “Talking Volumes” series. The event was moderated by Ole grad and Twin Cities journalist Steve Marsh. In particular, the two authors also described how their personal lives and their lives as writers overlapped. Both will read to each other during the course of writing a book, said Hustvedt, and they rely on each other for feedback. This process, she emphasized, was important for any writer.

This topic comes up frequently in interviews with Hustvedt and Auster; in previous interviews, she has been quoted as saying that “everyone needs a reader—I just happen to me married to mine.”

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