Norma Fox Mazer, author of young adult literature, died on October 17, 2009, of brain cancer. Together with her husband, Harry Mazer, also an author of young adult novels, she had a distinguished career that spanned over 40 years and included 33 books and many awards, among them a Newberry Honor, the Christopher Award, two Lewis Carroll Shelf Awards, an Edgar, and a National Book Award nomination.
She was born on May 15, 1931, to Jean Garlen Fox and Michael Fox, and grew up in Glens Falls, NY in the middle of her mother’s extended family of Russian immigrant Jews. Early family pictures show Norma scribbling in a notepad or hidden behind a book. By the time she was 12 or 13, she had made up her mind to be a writer.
She attended Antioch College briefly but dropped out to get married. Her writing apprenticeship began when she was 27 years old and the mother of three small children. She and Harry made a pact to squeeze at least an hour out of every day to write. Frequently, this was at four o’clock in the morning. Soon they were writing pulp fiction for a living. Their stories appeared in True Confessions, True Story, and other pulp magazines.
Norma considered this her writing apprenticeship, always saying that it taught her about plot, character, pacing, and the discipline of writing every day for a living. Within a few more years, she and Harry began to write and publish young adult novels. She was one of the pioneering writers, who, along with others such as Judy Blume and Norma Klein, defined the field of young adult literature in the 1970s.
As the New York Times wrote, “given Ms. Mazer’s directness, it is not surprising that her characters are offered few easy answers. Yet her plots are less about tidy resolutions than they are about interior journeys toward self-knowledge. As a result, her work can be permeated with an aura of suspense.”
In 1997, Norma joined the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA writing program in young adult and children’s literature. For many years, she was a beloved faculty member and also served as faculty chair. Vermont College of the Fine Arts awarded her an honorary MFA in 2005. She also taught at the National Book Foundation summer writing camp and was a member of the Author’s Guild and PEN.
Norma was known for her warmth, her clear, incisive mind, and her appreciative laugh, as well as her dedication to her writing students and her love of nature. She and Harry lived for many years in Upstate New York, commuting between Jamesville and New York City. Together, they created beautiful wild gardens, transforming bare fields into blooming paradises. She enjoyed long walks, bird watching, and finding wild mushrooms in the woods. They also loved to spend summers on their land in Canada, camping in rustic cabins, which they had built from salvaged lumber, and writing under the pine trees.
She spent the last years of her life in Montpelier, VT, where she enjoyed being part of a close-knit community of neighbors, friends, and fellow writers.