Kathleen Norris was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in South Dakota and Hawaii. She describes her early life as that of an outsider and a fish out of water. She was a voracious reader of books and a careful and quiet watcher of life around her, absorbed in school and white skinned in an area where most people were bronze skinned. She attended Bennington College in Vermont and, by her own account, was woefully unprepared for the 1960’s culture of drugs, sex, and political activism that she discovered in school. However, the college setting introduced her to poetry, and she determined to become a poet herself. After graduation, she became the arts administrator at the Academy of American Poets in New York City, where she was mentored by executive director Elizabeth Kray. Kray is credited by many with raising the visibility of poetry in the United States and in literary circles, and she was tireless in promoting public poetry readings in New York City. Norris also discovered the city’s burgeoning artistic social scene, and she befriended and encountered many influential writers and poets, including Stanley Kunitz, Gerard Malanga, Jim Carroll, Denise Levertov, Erica Jong, James Merrill, and James Wright. It was in New York City that she met and married the poet David Dwyer and published her first three books of poetry.
Raised a Protestant and always intrigued by God, faith, theology, and her struggle to believe, Norris often employed religious themes in her early poetry collections. One reviewer encouraged her to drop her constant references to angels, but she continued to weave religious and deeply spiritual themes throughout her poetry.
In the mid-1970’s, Norris and Dwyer moved to Lemmon,...
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