Andre Norton

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Andre Norton Biography

Andre Norton (born Alice Norton) proved that science fiction was not just a boy's club (though of course Mary Shelley was the very first sci-fi writer). She may have written under male pseudonyms, but her work helped pave the way for other women writers in the genre and ultimately broadened the subject matter of sci-fi itself. Though many of her novels take place on other planets, it would be a mistake to credit Norton’s success solely based on her ability to create make-believe worlds. Her themes are deeply humanistic, and her settings are often rooted in nature, with technology depicted as a particularly predominant evil. Always at the center of Norton's stories are regular, real-world characters who must face daunting challenges and overcome them through their own personal virtue.

Facts and Trivia

  • Norton published under several pseudonyms. She legally changed her first name to Andre early in her career, recognizing that science fiction and fantasy had a primarily male audience.
  • Books were a huge part of Norton’s life. In addition to the bookstore she owned and briefly managed, she worked as a librarian in Ohio during the early days of her writing career.
  • Among the many authors whose work was influenced by Norton are David Weber, Greg Bear, and Tanya Huff.
  • Norton’s output was incredibly prolific. She published novels (over 320!), short stories, and poems from her early twenties into her early nineties.
  • In 2005, roughly one month before her death at the age of 93, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America created an award in her honor.

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Andre Norton, though she has written in many fields, is best known for her science-fiction and fantasy novels. She was one of the first women writers, and easily one of the most popular writers, in these fields. Born Alice Mary Norton, she was exposed to books and literature at an early age. Her mother read to her, starting with poetry and, by the time she was five, Little Women. She wrote her first novel while in high school. In 1934, she published The Prince Commands, her second-written novel but the first one sold. In 1938, she revised her first novel and published it as Ralestone Luck. With the publication of these books, Norton legally took the name Andre instead of Alice Mary. Andre was a more androgenous name, which she believed she needed for success in the young adult adventure market.{$S[A]North, Andrew;Norton, Andre}

While she was selling her first novels, Norton was also working as a children’s librarian at the Cleveland Public Library. She worked there from 1930 to 1951, with one year off to work as a special librarian for the Library of Congress and to try her hand at owning a bookstore. After leaving the library, she spent some years as an editor for Gnome Press before becoming a full-time writer in 1958. During her time as a librarian, she wrote young adult adventure stories such as The Sword Is Drawn and Scarface. The Sword Is Drawn received an award from the Dutch government, and its sequel, Sword in Sheath, was named an Ohiana Junior Book honor book.

Her first science-fiction novel, Star Man’s Son, 2250 A.D., was set in Cleveland after a nuclear holocaust. The main character, Fors, a mutant, is an outcast from his community. This outcast character is seen in most of Norton’s books. At this time, her audience was still primarily young adults. In 1954, Donald Wollheim reprinted Star Man’s Son as Daybreak 2250 A.D. and sold it as adult science fiction. Most of her work since has been read by both young adults and adults.

Norton continued to publish science fiction and fantasy regularly. For her Solar Queen series, she adopted the pseudonym of Andrew North, though most of her books appear under her own name. Her novels are filled with wondrous planets, strange alien races such as the telepathic and reptilian Zacathans, and strong heroes and heroines. Quite often, her characters are outcasts from normal society, and they sometimes possess psychic powers or some other ability that sets them apart. Her novels are also filled with intelligent animals that help the main characters in their conflicts.

In 1963, Norton published Witch World, the first book in her most successful series. The Witch World is populated by strange creatures and people with amazing powers. Many of the creatures have origins in folklore, while others seem to have sprung purely from the author’s mind. The powers of Light and Dark are at constant war with each other and in more recent novels, such as Songsmith (written with A. C. Crispin), she hints that the conflict is nearing a conclusion. Norton has published more than twenty books with the Witch World as a setting, including some collaborations.

Many of Norton’s novels, including Witch World and Judgement on Janus, include antitechnology themes. She views the machine, especially the computer, as suspicious, if not entirely evil. She freely admits to this viewpoint, believing that humans lost out during the Industrial Revolution by surrendering to the machine.

Norton has won many awards for her work. Besides awards for individual novels,...

(This entire section contains 757 words.)

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Norton’s two most prestigious awards are for her lifetime accomplishments as a writer: In 1977, she won the Gandalf Master of Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement, and in 1984 the Science Fiction Writers of America named her a Grand Master of Science Fiction (a Nebula award), the first woman to achieve that honor. She was named to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Hall of Fame in 1996.

With more than one hundred titles to her name, Andre Norton remains one of the most prolific and popular science-fiction and fantasy writers ever. In addition to her many individual and collaborative works, Norton also has taken an interest in helping others, especially women, with their writing careers. The High Hallack Genre Writers’ Research and Reference Library (named after a place in the Witch World) officially opened in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on February 28, 1999. Norton created this library and retreat as a place where authors can go to work on their novels; she also made it her residence.


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