Per Petterson, born July 18, 1952, in Oslo, Norway, knew when he was eighteen that he wanted to be a writer. However, this knowledge remained buried in his psyche for many years as he pursued a living that had nothing to do with authoring stories. For a while, Petterson worked in a factory, as did both his mother and his father. Though he did not write during this time, he continued his habit of reading, mostly fiction by U.S. authors. His favorite was Raymond Carver, the famed twentieth-century short story writer. When Petterson landed a job as a bookseller, he was surrounded by the best contemporary literature, which rekindled his passion for writing. He disciplined himself to sit down and try his hand at a short story. The story won a prize and his writing career finally came alive.
Petterson’s first published book was his 1987 collection of short stories, called Aske I munnen sand I skoa (Ash in His Mouth, Sand in His Shoe), which has not yet been translated into English, though it was highly praised in Norway. Petterson’s Ekkoland (Echo-Land), his first novel, was published in 1989 and cinched his literary reputation in his homeland. In 1996, Petterson published his first book that would be translated into English in 1998. The novel is called To Siberia, and for the first time, Petterson changes from a male narrator to a young woman, who feels imprisoned by a pregnancy. It was this book that introduced Petterson’s works to a much wider audience and won the author much critical acclaim. His 2000 novel In the Wake was also very successful, but it was Out Stealing Horses (translated and published in English in 2005) that won him international prizes. Out Stealing Horses enjoyed long stays on best-seller lists around the world.
In 1990, Petterson suffered the tragic loss of his parents and two brothers in a ferryboat fire in Norway. When accepting his IMPAC award in Dublin, Petterson made special comments about what his parents meant to him. (See Bob Thompson’s article in the Los Angeles Times.) Petterson continues to live in Norway.