Susanna Kaysen was born in 1948. She grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she still lives.
When the time came for Susanna to consider a future after graduation from high school, she refused to attend college. Instead she lived in a commune directly after graduation. This was an act which shocked her father, a professor.
In early 1967 Susanna swallowed 50 aspirin in a suicide attempt. It wasn't until April that while visiting a psychiatrist she was told she needed some "rest". The psychiatrist's advice was for her to spend several weeks at McLean's psychiatric hospital. Susanna admitted herself, and the suggested weeks turned into the better part of two years.
Susanna has described her time at McLean as an incredibly formative period of her life. Although to this day she refuses to judge whether her stay at the hospital was necessary.
After being released from McLean after receiving a marriage proposal, Susanna experienced many difficulties when trying to re-enter society. Susanna's passion was always writing. She worked as a free-lance editor and proof-reader until an introduction to an agent set her career as an author in motion. The novel that caught the agent's attention was Asa, As I Knew Him. It was published in 1987 and received positive reviews from critics.
Susanna Kaysen has written four novels. While working on her second novel the memories of her two year stay at McLean’s began to emerge. With the help of her lawyer she was able to obtain her file from the hospital. Using her memories, and the file as a reference Susanna wrote Girl, Interrupted. Throughout this autobiographical work, Susanna tells the reader about her life with borderline personality disorder. She traces her life from before her admittance to McLean Hospital, to life during McLean, and life following her stay.
Girl, Interrupted won her both accolades and media attention when published in 1994. In 1999 the novel was made into a major motion picture by Columbia, which starred Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. Susanna does not believe that the movie adequately represents her work, and urges that people "Try the book. Maybe you’ll like it better — I do".
Susanna Kaysen's writing, on varying levels relates to the experiences of her life. Woven prose and candidly sharp dialogue make Susanna’s works compulsively readable. She focuses her writing on issues which are not often talked about, and even considered taboo. Her work questions the social conventions of the 60's, many of which remain present in the world today. And most importantly she has touched upon baseless notions of sanity and insanity, and the shame attached to what is labeled as deviant behavior. Her writing is raw and real. Within the pages of her books lies a potent vision of the reality of depression. And that is a reality which is overly lacking from today’s society; A reality which needs to be accepted and understood. Susanna Kaysen has done this, and shared her experiences with the world. Hopefully more authors will be able to follow in her footsteps.
’I wasn't convinced I was crazy, though I feared I was. Some people say that having any conscious opinion on the matter is a sign of sanity, but I'm not sure that's true. I still think about it. I'll always have to think about it.
Girl, Interrupted was my first introduction to Susanna’s work. I have read, and re-read it many times since I first pulled it off the shelf. Something about the touches of reality that Susanna weaves into every sentence has drawn me to her work and left me spellbound and captivated, whilst also sending me on a personal mission to bring some of her kind of reality into my own work. It’s definitely a must read for anyone who has ever questioned their sanity, and who has pondered the insanity of the world around them.
Asa, As I Knew Him
The Camera My Mother Gave Me