Susanna Kaysen Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Susanna Kaysen is an American writer who came to prominence in middle age through her achievement as a novelist and memoir writer. Whether fiction or nonfiction, much of her work possesses strong autobiographical elements, and it is the ability to convey her own experiences meaningfully that has garnered her a significant reading public.

Susanna Kaysen was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her father, Carl Kaysen, was a respected and successful scientist who worked at different times at Harvard and Princeton. Kaysen grew up in privileged surroundings, in the ambience of the American East Coast establishment. This setting, though, did not bring personal happiness, as Kaysen experienced a turbulent and unhappy adolescence and young adulthood whose trials are partially chronicled in her prose memoir Girl, Interrupted. During her teenage years, she suffered from acute depression and suicidal tendencies, and she received the psychiatric diagnosis that she had a borderline personality disorder.

From 1967 to 1969, Kaysen was confined to the McLean Psychiatric Hospital in Cambridge. This was at once the low point and the defining period of Kaysen’s life, where the very core of her identity was questioned and, eventually, affirmed. When Kaysen was twenty-one, the institution judged that she had “recovered,” and she was left to construct some semblance of a life. For years, she worked at a variety of jobs, never completing her college education. She eventually began working as an editor and proofreader for various publishers, earning her living this way during the 1970’s and a good part of the 1980’s. The combination of this experience, the connections provided by her family, and her residence in the academic hub of Cambridge gave Kaysen hopes of succeeding as a writer, but nothing consequential came of these hopes until an agent expressed interest in a novel she had written.

This novel, eventually published as Asa, as I Knew Him, sets patterns that are characteristic of Kaysen’s published books. Kaysen’s work focuses on the contrast between two different perceptions of the same person, event, or situation. In Asa, as I Knew Him, the...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Adams, Phoebe-Lou. Review of Far Afield, by Susanna Kaysen. The Atlantic Monthly 266, no. 5 (November, 1990): 172. An accessible and insightful review.

Cheever, Susan. “A Designated Crazy.” Review of Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen. The New York Times Book Review, June 20, 1993, 71. This review was a prominently placed notice that was a major assist to the financial success of Girl, Interrupted.

Gates, David. Review of Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen. Newsweek 122, no. 1 (July 5, 1993): 56. A favorable review.

Kirsch, Jonathan. Review of Asa, as I Knew Him, by Susanna Kaysen. Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1987, sec. 5, pp. 1, 16. Praises Kaysen’s “unusual perspective” and “marvelous powers of observation in evoking the agonies and ecstasies of adolescent sexuality.”