Andre Norton Biography

Born Alice Mary Norton, February 17, 1912, in Cleveland, OH; died of congestive heart failure, March 17, 2005, in Murfreesboro, TN. Author. Andre Norton, one of the most popular and prolific writers of fantasy and science fiction for young adults, published more than 130 novels over 70 years, attracting many young women to the genres at a time when they were considered mostly for boys. Her uplifting novels often featured characters alienated from their societies who found their true selves through epic quests.

The author was born Alice Mary Norton in Cleveland, Ohio, on February 17, 1912, to rug salesman Adalbert Freely Norton and Bertha Stemm Norton. She graduated from Collinwood High School in Cleveland, but could not afford to finish college because of the Great Depression. She took a job at the Cleveland Public Library in 1932 and took night classes at Western Reserve University. She published her first novel, The Prince Commands, a novel about a small, fictional European kingdom, in 1934 at the age of 22. The same year, she legally changed her name to Andre Norton, convinced by her agent that her audience would be young boys and that her books would sell better if she had a male name.

In the early 1940s, Norton moved to Maryland, where she briefly owned a bookstore, and worked in Washington, D.C. as a librarian, including at the Library of Congress. She came back to the Cleveland library system in 1942, where she worked in the children's section. Meanwhile, she wrote novels in a variety of genres, from espionage to one set in colonial Maryland. She left the Cleveland libraries in 1950 because of ill health and became a reader for Gnome Press, a science fiction publisher. She also served as science fiction editor at World Publishing.

Her breakthrough came with the publication of her science-fiction novel Star Man's Son 2250 A.D., published in 1952. In the novel, Fors, a mutant rejected by his society, goes on a quest with a telepathic cat, looking for a radiation-free lost city, and begins to believe in himself after withstanding the trials of the journey. The novel came out as the science-fiction market was turning from magazines to books, and Norton's work quickly became very popular.

Norton's books have an "almost mystical sense" of romance and an "exuberant sense that the human need for life-shaping quests was innate," wrote John Clute of the London newspaper the Independent. Her straightforward writing style, Clute added, "exposed the sheer romantic joy of living in the galaxy-spanning civilization" that many of her works explored.

In 1963, a few years after the American publication of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Norton responded with a fantasy-novel series of her own. The first novel of the series, Witch World, was set on a planet that could only be reached through secret gateways. The Witch World series described a complex land called Outremer, a collection of numerous small kingdoms full of magic and conflict among dynasties entangled by romance. The series, which eventually included more than two dozen novels, made Norton famous and attracted many female readers to fantasy novels. Her other popular book series included the Beast Master and Star Ka'at novels.

Norton won most of science fiction and fantasy's highest awards: the Grand Master of Fantasy award, the Nebula Grand Master award, admission into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Hall of Fame, and the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America named an award for young adult novelists for her shortly before her death; it was to be presented for the first time in 2006.

Famously private, Norton revealed little about her life outside writing. She never married and left no descendants. However, it was clear that she was in fragile health for much of her life. In 1966, Norton and her mother, who often assisted her as a proofreader and editor, moved to Winter Park, Florida, for health reasons. Thirty years later, she moved to Tennessee, first to live on a farm in Monterey, then to a home in Murfreesboro, near Nashville. She established a library for genre writers, The High Hallack Genre Writer's Research and Reference Library, southeast of Nashville, in 1999. It was full of reference material about weapons, ancient religions, history, and mythology. It remained open until around 2004.

In her later years, to fund the library and other enterprises she sponsored, Norton began collaborating with younger authors on several books, allowing them to do most of the writing while overseeing them. Clute of the Independent found most of these latter titles merely "respectable," adding that "they do not have the Norton glow." Norton's health declined further in 2004, and her publisher, Tor Books, rush-printed an advance copy of her last novel, Three Hands of Scorpio, so that she could see it before she passed away. Norton died on March 17, 2005, at her home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, of congestive heart failure. She was 93. She said before her death that she did not want a funeral service, but wanted to be cremated along with copies of her first and last novels. Sources:, http://www.cnn. com/2005/SHOWBIZ/books/03/17/ ap/index.html (March 21, 2005); Guardian (London), March 29, 2005, p. 19; Independent (London), March 21, 2005, p. 35; New York Times, March 18, 2005, p. B8;

Erick Trickey

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