On a Friday evening a week ago, author Siri Hustvedt addressed a packed upper floor of the Northfield Public Libary. Now resident in Brooklyn but born and raised in Northfield, Hustvedt said that all her writings contain memories of her Northfield childhood. Indeed, much of her 45 minute address related to her philosophy of writing in which memory and imagination are intertwined. For Hustvedt, the creative process of writing fiction is akin to child play and fantasizing, the alteration of reality by imagination, calling up images and glimpses of the past to realize the author’s inner truth. She disagreed with the view that fiction writers are “professional liars” because characters are true to the author.
Northfield is a retirement community with a heavy component of former professionals—hardly surprising since the two excellent private liberal arts colleges here are significant attractions(Carleton and St. Olaf). Northfield supposedly has the highest per capita rate of persons with doctoral degrees of any city in the nation. This environment has allowed an organization called the Elder Collegium to thrive. Their motto is “a questing mind never retires.” Retired professors offer interesting courses for their fellow retirees, with a decided tilt toward art and literature. I know one favorite class has been “the history and chemistry of chocolate” offered by a retired Carleton chemistry professor.
I mention the Elder Collegium because the works of Siri Hustvedt are being featured in a course on Minnesota writers, and the Collegium website announces that she will be present as a speaker for one session of the class offered by my friend, Jim Holden.