the Little Red Reviewer

Andre Norton, a woman of firsts

Posted on: January 13, 2012

Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing Andre Norton’s The Stars Are Ours,  but in the meantime, I wanted to talk about her writing career and explore her vast list of works.  I’m more than a little embarrassed to say that although I’ve heard the name Andre Norton for most of my life, it’s been less than a year since I read my first Norton. Thanks to my buddy A.R. for lending me a handful of Norton titles and getting me hooked!

Born in Ohio in 1912, Alice Mary Norton started writing short stories in High School. Her first novel was completed before she graduated (although it wouldn’t be published until the late 1930’s), and her first published novel, The Prince Commands, hit shelves 1934, when she was just 22 years old.  This was the same year she legally changed her name to Andre Alice Norton, as she was advised by publishers that a more masculine sounding name would help sell the science fiction and fantasy that she was writing.

Norton was a woman of firsts:  the first woman to win the World Science Fiction Society’s Grand Master Award, the first woman to win the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Grand Master Award.  In honor of Andre Norton, the SFWA now awards the Andre Norton Award for outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction, which has been awarded to talented authors of Young Adult fiction such as Catherynne Valente and J.K. Rowling, Holly Black and most recently Terry Pratchett. One of Norton’s favorite plot motifs was that of the loner or outsider who never gave up in the face of adversity.  It sure worked for her.

During her over 70 years of writing, Norton published over 130 novels in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, even spy novels and historical fiction.  In the science fiction world, she is most famous for the young adult series Witch World (the original series and it’s spin-offs would eventually span over 30 books), The Zero Stone,  The Stars are Ours, Star Born and The Time Traders.  She was paramount in introducing the female protaganist  in male dominated genres. Due to her declining health in her later life she often collaborated with other well known authors such as Mercedes Lackey, Jean Rabe, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.

A handful of her works are available on Project Gutenberg, and many of her works have become available electronically for e-readers as well. It is unfortunate that so many of her titles are no longer in print and thus are becoming rare. I encourage you to visit your local used bookstore or make use of your area’s interlibrary loan services to discover the works of Andre Norton.

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5 Responses to "Andre Norton, a woman of firsts"

I was very excited about your Star Born review and rushed out and got myself the same copy and started right in. Then stopped because I knew it was the kind of book my friend Jeff and I would like to read together and so I waited and got him a copy for Christmas. We are hoping to get to it in the next week or two, maybe between Foundation reads.

One one hand it is very sad to think that there was a time when a woman would feel the need to take on a male pseudonym (or change her name) in order to get published. I can only assume there are residual results of that still today, especially in specific markets.

However, if one can take a step back for a minute from that period of inequality, it is also a very fascinating look at history. I remember when I first discovered (less than a decade ago, maybe?) that Andre Norton was a woman. I hadn’t read any of his/her fiction (and still haven’t, more’s the pity) and had no idea. I remember being surprised by it and then realizing that it made perfect sense. It wasn’t long after that I read about James Tiptree, Jr. and the circumstances of her life and how she fooled everyone with her writing.

I am not glad that we’ve had these periods of our history, but since we cannot go back and change that I am thrilled that we have folks like Norton and Tiptree, Jr. who live on after their deaths not just because of the work they created but also because their very names are a historical record of a time that we don’t want to return to, but a nevertheless a time in the history of who we are and where we have come from.

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I read a lot of Andre Norton in Grade School and High School. I think she is one of the main reasons I am so into scifi as an adult.

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I’ve read a few of Norton’s coauthored novels, but none of her solo work. I had no idea some of her books were already in the public domain! A few of them are now on my ereader.

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I read my first Andre Norton in high school, and I was glad I did. Unfortunately, that was also the last time I read any Andre Norton, and it wasn’t one of her better known works. I keep meaning to go back to her–I’ll stay tuned for your review!

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