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Andre Norton: Librarian, Writer, and Fantasy Grande Dame

by on September 11, 2013

Andre Norton (born Alice Mary Norton) is something of a legend in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. The first woman to be named Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy; the first woman to be named to the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) as Grand Master; and the first woman inducted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame among the likes of amazing writers like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Anne McCaffrey;  Norton is the author of over 300 published titles. Many modern fantasy and science fiction authors can trace their influence back to Norton, such as Mercedes Lackey, Charles de Lint, Tanya Huff, and even C.J. Cherryh.  Not only was Norton a prolific writer, an inspiration and mentor, she was also a librarian.

Norton had attended Western Reserve University to become a teacher. In 1932, she left the university due to the Great Depression and started working for the Cleveland Library System, where she would stay for 8 years. From 1940 – 1941, Norton worked as a special librarian in the cataloging department of the Library of Congress, and after a failed attempt at a bookstore in Maryland, returned to the Cleveland Public Library until 1950. The High Hallack Library, in which Norton was a major influence and organizer, was conceived as a research facility for genre writers and scholars of popular literature. Named after one of the continents in Norton’s Witch World series, it was once home to 10,000 texts, videos and other media. Opened in February 1999, the facility closed a short 4 years later in 2004 due to Norton’s declining health.

Some of Norton’s best known fantasy works are The Halfblood Chronicles with Mercedes Lackey.  This series consists of 3 published books, The Elvenbane, Elvenblood, and Elvenborn, with a fourth book that has yet to be published due to unknown reasons.  Another major Norton series is Witch World,  consisting of 25 books and several omnibus editions.  The Series is divided into 3 Cycles: the Estcarp Cycle; the High Hallack Cycle, and the Turning. The first book in the series, Witch World was first published in 1963.

Norton’s diverse career in science fiction, fantasy, and young adult literature ultimately led to the creation of the Andre Norton Award, which is given each year by the SFWA, for an outstanding work of fantasy or science fiction for the young adult literature market, beginning with publications from 2005. The Norton Award doesn’t count as an official Nebula Award, but it does share the Nebula ballot and is voted on by SFWA members. The Norton award is decided by a jury whose role is to expand the ballot beyond the six books with most nominations by members of the SFWA. This year’s winner of the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy was Fair Coin by E.C. Myers.

Norton wrote novels for 70 years, an amazing stretch of time for any writer. Her influence and touch on the genre has been felt by many readers and writers during that time, and has served as a starting point to four generations of science fiction and fantasy readers and writers.  No matter where the genre may go in the future, Andre Alice Norton’s influence will continue to be felt by new generations of readers, and serve as inspiration for new generations of writers for many years to come.  Andre Norton passed away in 2005 at the age of 93 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

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