Norma Klein Biography

Norma Klein wrote over thirty novels for young people, many of them considered highly controversial. Her books focus on family issues, teen sexuality, racism, sexism, and even birth control. In 1986, a survey found that at least nine of her books had been banned from libraries. One of her most criticized works is Family Secrets, which features a teenaged couple whose parents end up marrying each other, a situation that forces them to deal with their own sexual relationship. It is number 81 on the American Library Association’s list of the “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books.” When asked about the controversy surrounding her novels in a New York Times interview, Klein said, “I’m not a rebel, trying to stir things up just to be provocative. I’m doing it because I feel like writing about real life.”

Facts and Trivia

  • In addition to novels, Klein also wrote over sixty short stories, taught fiction at several colleges including Yale, and was a board member of PEN.
  • Klein strongly identified as a feminist and wrote for “girls who are active intellectually, who are strong, interesting people.”
  • Klein’s father was a Freudian psychoanalyst, and that influence played some part in the themes of her novels despite the fact that she came to question Freud’s views.
  • Klein once called her psychoanalyst father and tennis-playing mother “nonreligious Jews, politically left-wing, intellectuals.”
  • Klein died at the age of fifty after a brief illness.

Biography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414

Norma Klein was born on May 13, 1938, in New York City. She grew up on Manhattan Island and died after a brief illness on April 25, 1989, also in New York City. She was the daughter of Emanuel Klein, a Freudian psychoanalyst, and Sadie Klein. Although as an adult she became disenchanted with Freudian psychoanalysis, her interest in using her fiction to help adolescents with their problems surely stems in large part from her interaction with her father.

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Klein attended Dalton School from age three to thirteen and Elizabeth Irwin School during her high school years. Both were, she said, progressive schools, run on the model of Summerhill in England. She attended Cornell University from 1956 to 1957 and received her B.A. degree, cum laude, in 1960, from Barnard College, where she majored in Russian and became a member of Phi Beta Kappa. At Barnard, she took creative writing courses from Robert Pack and George P. Elliott. When she was nineteen, she sent out her first story. It was accepted by Grecourt Review. After this initial good fortune, she found it much more difficult to get published, claiming that some of her stories were rejected as many as forty-five times.

She received an M.A. in Slavic languages from Columbia University in 1963. She said that other than when she was at Columbia, she spent most of her time from age nineteen until her first daughter was born in 1967 writing short stories. She married Erwin Fleissner, a biochemist in 1963. They had two daughters, Jennifer, born in 1967, and Katherine, born in 1970. She started writing picture books as a result of reading to her older daughter. None of these books was accepted for publication until after the success of her first book for young adults, Mom, the Wolf Man and Me.

She is the author of novels and short stories for adults, adolescents, and children. She earned a number of awards for her writing: Girls Can Be Anything, a book for younger children, was chosen one of the Child Study Association of America's Children's Books of the Year for 1973; she received the Media & Methods Maxi Award for Paperbacks in 1975; Sunshine: A Novel, a novelization of a television special written by Carol Sobiesky, was chosen one of the New York Public Library's Books for the Teen Age in 1980; Love Is One of the Choices was chosen one of School Library Journal's Best Books of the Year in 1978; and she received the O. Henry Award in 1983 for her short story, "The Wrong Man."

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