It's been said that 12 is the age at which you fall in love with science fiction stories. This makes quite a bit of sense when you take a look at one of the genre’s best known authors, Andre Norton. Over the course of her career, she wrote over 160 novels and stories, many of them aimed at a younger demographic, once known as Juveniles, and which are now marketed as Young Adult novels. Norton has captured the imaginations of millions of passionate readers over the course of her seven-decade career, all the while setting the stage for a new generation of female authors and fans.
Andre Norton was born Alice Mary Norton on February 17th, 1912, in Cleveland, Ohio. Her mother, Daisy Norton, began to read to her at the early age of three, reciting poetry and stories. Her sister, 17 years her senior, was just about out of high school, and so the youngest Norton was encouraged to start reading early. Soon, she found herself escaping into numerous books on her own. By the age of six, her mother began to take her on weekly trips to the local public library, instilling a live-long passion for the institution. She quickly discovered fantasy novels; her favorite was L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which "stirred [her] soul as a young child,” according to Sue Stewart, a close friend of Norton's and the owner of her literary estate. Throughout her school-aged years, Norton found herself deep in science-fiction stories, becoming enamored of Mary Shelley, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Robert Bloch.
Her writing career began early as well. When she reached high school, she became the editor of the school's newspaper, and starting writing fiction around the same time. Her efforts produced a novel, Ralestone Luck. Upon her graduation in 1930, she attended the Flora Stone Mather College of Western Reserve University of Cleveland, Ohio. Her time was cut short with the onset of the Great Depression, and she took a job with the Cleveland Public Library, where she soon became the branch's Children's Librarian. At the same time, she continued her education through night courses and continued to write in her spare time.
In 1934, Norton published her first novel, The Prince Commands, a historical fantasy. In the same year, she legally changed her name from Alice Mary Norton to Andre Alice Norton, told by her publisher that a male name would appeal better to readers. Toward the end of her career, she noted that "there were about five women writing fantasy, and all of them used male names. We had no choice". While not entirely accurate (there were more women writing, and not all had adopted male or ambiguous names), her experience does highlight the attitudes of some publishers and readers.
In 1935, Norton’s supervisor at the library, Effie Power, wrote a recommendation letter for her to Houghton Mifflin, who had sponsored a literary fellowship award (and who assumed that she was a man). She described Norton as "difficult to describe. She is only 23 but looks at least 30. She has a great deal of poise and reserve, but is at the same time alert and keen to situations. Her speech is very formal, sometimes the children are amazed by her long words, but she writes wild tales with quickness and ease. Her imagination seems well directed, however." Over the next couple of years, Norton returned to her high school novel, Ralestone Luck, rewriting it for publication in 1938.
In 1940, she began to work at the Library of Congress as a special librarian for a project on citizenship. The position lasted a year, and in 1941, she moved to Mount Rainier, Maryland, where she opened the Mystery House Bookstore. The bookstore wasn't successful, and by 1942, she returned to Ohio to resume her work at the Cleveland Public Library, where she would remain until 1950. Her third book, Follow the Drum, was published in 1942, and was followed two years later by The Sword is Drawn, each World War II spy novels, inspired by her work in Washington, D.C. A third, At Sword's Point, was published in 1954.
Norton made her foray into fantasy literature with her first short story, “People of the Crater,” which was published in the Fantasy Book Vol 1. in July, 1947, under the name Andrew North. The shift into speculative fiction brought a new job change as well: In 1950, Norton accepted a job at a small genre publisher called Gnome Press, run by Martin Greenburg in New York City. There, Norton worked as an assistant, reader and editor. At the same time, she had begun to publish her own science-fiction novels. Her first, Huon of the Horn, appeared in September of 1951 from Harcourt, Brace & Company, and was followed by Star Man's Son, 2250 A.D. in 1952, Star Rangers in 1953, and The Stars Are Ours! in 1954 from World Publishing Company. Through World Publishing Company, she edited several anthologies: Space Service in 1953, Space Pioneers in 1954 and Space Police in 1956, under her legal name. Because World Publishing Company and Gnome Press were competitors, Norton adopted the pen name “Andrew North” for her first release through Gnome, Sargasso of Space, which appeared in 1955.
Norton's entry into the genre was part of a larger movement in the 1950s of female authors beginning to publish genre stories, spurred on by new markets and opportunities, such as Galaxy Science Fiction and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. While women writers had been present in the genre earlier, such as Francis Stevens, C.L. Moore, Judith Merril and Leigh Brackett, a new generation was starting to join the ranks of professional science fiction writers. Margaret St. Clair began publishing in 1946, Katherine MacLean's first story appeared in 1949, and Anne McCaffrey’s first story appeared in 1952. Norton occupied a unique role in the genre by focusing on stories designed for younger readers, akin to the Juvenile novels of Robert Heinlein. Moreover, her YA novels broke the mold of stories about young men on adventures: She brought in female protagonists as well, and is credited with bringing in a large female audience to science fiction and fantasy stories. The balance had begun to shift and this generation of writers helped to set the tone for the next generation of female science-fiction authors of the 1960s and 1970s.
In the meantime, Norton was on a roll, publishing novel after novel. In 1956, her novel The Crossroads of Time appeared as an Ace Double Novel alongside Gordon Dickson's Mankind on the Run, while her second Gnome book, Plague Ship, appeared in the same year. Ace had already begun to publish Norton's books: Star Man's Son 2250 A.D. was bundled with Daybreak, written by Lewis Padgett (C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner) in 1954. Star Rangers was renamed and published as The Last Planet and published with A Man Obsessed by Alan E. Nourse in 1955 along with The Stars Are Ours! and Three Faces of Time by Sam Merwin, Jr. In 1957, Ace published Sargasso of Space alongside The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick.
By 1958, Norton left her work at Gnome and became a full-time author. The timing was lucky for her: Gnome had almost reached its end, and was having trouble paying its authors and printers. It would only last a couple of more years after her work there, eventually closing in 1964 for good. Norton had set her eyes on greater things, however. She wrote three novels in 1959—Galactic Derelict, The Beast Master and Secret of the Lost Race—and for years afterward she continued writing at her frantic pace. In the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, John Clute notes that this first period of her career was largely composed of science fiction stories: "most of them gathered into series which were in turn treated as loose units in a broadly conceived common galactic superseries – an essentially traditional Future History that begins just past the Near Future, Norton having had limited interest in sci-fi tied closely to the present time – and focuses on early phases of expansion through Space Opera conflicts generally focused around the Colonization of Other Worlds, until a Galactic Empire comes into being."
In 1963, Witch World, the start to one of her most famous series, was released by Ace Books. In it, Simon Tregarth, a veteran of World War II, is transported to the fantastical realm of Estcarp. The novel was immediately popular, and was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1964 for Best Novel. It was her first nomination, and she lost out to Clifford Simak's novel Way Station. The novel sparked a series of sequels, almost two dozen in all, which Norton would continue to write for the rest of her life. The series contained some science-fiction elements, but over its lifetime, it took on more of a fantasy theme, and her writing style began to shift.
By the late 1960s, her health began to fail. Norton moved to Florida and began to write collaboratively with other writers from that period onward. Over the course of her career, Norton authored over 160 novels, earning the appreciation of millions of readers over decades. Her last novel was Three Hands for Scorpio, published a month after her death. She’s credited with bringing entirely new generations of fans—especially women—to science fiction and fantasy, as well as inspiring innumerable authors to follow her footsteps. Still, her name had the intended effect: Anne McCaffrey notes in the essay “Romance and Glamor in Science Fiction” that she had once gotten into an argument with a fan over her gender, who had categorically rejected the idea that Andre Norton was in fact a woman. Norton’s works aimed toward younger readers helped to fill a void once filled by the science fiction magazines, capturing the imaginations of young adults that kept them reading science fiction well into their adult lives. As such, Norton’s influence in the genre is great, on par with that of other major authors such as Heinlein and Asimov.
Clute notes in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction that Norton’s odd placement in the genre delayed some recognition. She rarely published short fiction in the same manner as most active science fiction authors, choosing instead to focus on novel-length work, and was often labeled or dismissed as a Juvenile author. Nonetheless, Norton was honored with the Gandalf Award in 1977, the first woman to receive the award. In 1984, she became the first woman named as a Science Fiction Grandmaster. In 1997, she was the first woman inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and was honored with a World Fantasy Convention Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.
In 1999, Norton founded the High Hallack Genre Writer's Research and Reference Library, a research library focused on various popular genres. During its operation, she acquired over 10,000 titles, all of which were stored in a converted garage. According to the announcement from the Science Fiction Writers of America, “the facility is open to any writer or a student enrolled at college level or higher, currently engaged on a piece of genre-related writing, whether fiction or non-fiction. The use of library as well as lodging of up to one week, with extensions negotiable, is free of charge; however, guests may make a donation to the library, which is a tax-exempt institution.” The library, which was located in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, ran until 2004, when Norton’s health forced her to close it down. The collection was auctioned off.
In February, 2005, the Science Fiction Writers of America announced the creation of a new literary prize: the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Literature. “The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has created a new literary award to recognize outstanding science fiction and fantasy novels that are written for the young adult market. The award has been named in honor of Andre Norton, a SFWA Grand Master and author of more than 100 novels, including the acclaimed Witch World series, many of them for young adult readers.” Sadly, Norton never lived to see the first awards. Sick, she entered hospice care that February, and passed away due to congestive heart failure on March 17th, 2005. In 2006, the first Andre Norton Award was awarded to Holly Black, for her novel Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie. Since then, the award has been given to Justine Larbalestier, J.K. Rowling, Ysabeau S. Wilce, Catherynne M. Valente, Terry Pratchett, Delia Sherman, E. C. Myers and Nalo Hopkinson.