Norman, Howard A. 1949- (Howard Norman)
Norman, Howard A. 1949- (Howard Norman)
Born March 4, 1949, in Toledo, OH; son of Lawrence and Estelle Norman; married Jane Shore (a poet); children: Emma. Education: Graduate study at the Folklore Institute of Indiana University.
Office—Department of English, Rm. 3101 Susquehanna Hall, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742-8815. Agent—Melanie Jackson Agency, 250 W. 57th St., Ste. 1119, New York, NY 10107.
Translator and writer. University of Maryland, instructor in Native American literature. Worked variously as a translator for the World Society for the Protection of Animals, as a member of a fire crew in Manitoba, Canada, and as a field naturalist.
Whiting Foundation grant and nomination for National Book Award for fiction, both 1987, both for The Northern Lights.
(Compiler and translator) The Wishing Bone Cycle: Narrative Poems from the Swampy Cree Indians, "pre-face" by Jerome Rothenberg, Stonehill Publishing (New York, NY), 1976, enlarged edition, Ross-Erikson (Santa Barbara, CA), 1982.
(Translator) Paule Barton, The Woe Shirt: Caribbean Folk Tales, illustrated by Norman Laliberte, Penmaen Press (Boston, MA), 1980.
The Museum Guard: A Novel, Picador USA (New York, NY), 1999.
Trickster and the Fainting Birds, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1999.
The Haunting of L., Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2002.
The Chauffer: Stories, Picador USA (New York, NY), 2002.
My Famous Evening: Nova Scotia Sojourns, Diaries, & Preoccupations, National Geographic (Washington, DC), 2004.
Between Heaven and Earth: Bird Tales from Around the World, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2004.
In Fond Remembrance of Me, North Point Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Devotion, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2007.
UNDER NAME HOWARD NORMAN
(Compiler and translator) Cree Songs to the Newborn: Soprano and Chamber Ensemble (printed music; music by Laura Clayton), C.F. Peters (New York, NY), 1981.
(Compiler and translator) Where the Chill Came From: Cree Windigo Tales and Journeys, North Point Press (New York, NY), 1982.
The Owl Scatterer (juvenile), illustrated by Michael McCurdy, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1986.
The Northern Lights (novel), Summit Books (New York, NY), 1987.
Who Paddled-Backward-with-Trout (juvenile), illustrated by Ed Young, Joy Street Books, 1987.
(Editor) Northern Tales: Traditional Stories of Eskimo and Indian Peoples, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1990.
The Bird Artist (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1994.
The Girl Who Dreamed Only Geese, and Other Tales of the Far North (juvenile), illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1997.
Also author of How Glooskap Outwits the Ice Giants and Other Tales of the Maritime Indians and Northern Tales. Translator of Northern Tales, Pantheon. Also author of museum field reports, radio plays, several documentaries, and other filmscripts. Contributor to natural history magazines.
The Northern Lights and "Laughing and Crying" have been optioned for film.
Through his works, translator and fiction writer Howard A. Norman offers insights into Native American culture and heritage. He became best known in literary circles for his debut novel, The Northern Lights, which was nominated for a National Book Award in 1987, and his follow-up short fiction volume Kiss in the Hotel Joseph Conrad, and Other Stories. Both of these works distinguished Norman as a provocative writer who treats ordinary themes in unconventional ways. Norman is also highly regarded for his work as a translator. Fluent in several Algonquin dialects, he has translated a number of native American poems and folktales into English. In addition, he has written two books for children: The Owl Scatterer, which centers on a small Canadian village that is nearly taken over by owls and a mysterious old hermit practiced in the art of dispersing them, and Who Paddled-Backward-with-Trout, the tale of a young Indian boy's quest for a new identity.
Norman gained his first sustained exposure to Native American culture during the 1960s while working in Canada. His grief over his best friend's unexpected death in 1964 led him to leave school in the Midwestern United States and travel north to Manitoba, Canada, where he took a job with a fire crew made up largely of Cree Indians. Norman's experiences living among the Cree inspired his first novel, The Northern Lights, a coming-of-age story that touches on themes of isolation, friendship, loss, and self-discovery. The novel is set in the Arctic in the late 1950s and narrated by protagonist Noah Krainik, a teenager whose absentee father has uprooted his family members from their Toronto home and moved them to a desolate region of northern Canada. Noah, his orphaned cousin, Charlotte, and his mother, Mina, live together in a remote cabin on an Arctic lake, struggling to endure the isolation and the elements with only a rare appearance by Noah's father. Using his short-wave radio—one of the family's few links with civilization—Noah is able to maintain contact with the northern Manitoba settlement of Quill, a tiny but comparatively urban community where he spends summers. Having developed a close friendship with Pelly Bay, a young Cree Indian who lives in Quill, Noah is shaken to learn by radio of Pelly's accidental death by drowning. In the meantime, Mina, unable to cope in the barren, uninhabited Canadian wilderness, returns with Charlotte to Toronto, where she secures a job running an old movie theater called The Northern Lights. A grieving Noah then joins Mina and Charlotte in Toronto and begins a new phase of his life. The Northern Lights attracted considerable critical attention for Norman. Several reviewers lauded the novel for its rich characterizations and penetrating insights into human relationships.
Recurring themes of loss and isolation inform Norman's 1989 short fiction collection, Kiss in the Hotel Joseph Conrad, and Other Stories. The volume contains seven stories—set largely in Canada—featuring a variety of idiosyncratic, affecting characters whose eccentricities mirror their strongest emotions and worst fears. The title story draws on the recollections of a man who had fallen in love with a woman in a kissing booth in the 1940s, kept track of her for decades, but ultimately failed to pursue an intimate relationship with her when the chance presented itself. Other stories contain poignant portraits of a grieving Eskimo woman, an aging onetime bit-part actress, a jilted lover, and a young boy struggling to attain a focused view of his world. "Norman delineates these inarticulate lives with tenderness and compassion," noted Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times.
According to Richard Eder in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Norman's 1994 novel, The Bird Artist, set in Newfoundland, "is essentially a classic story of a young man coming to terms with himself, with his art and with his life" that has "elements of fable and touches of magic realism." In the New York Times Book Review, Louis B. Jones characterized the book as "a morality play in which character leads to action with tragic inevitability." Time critic Martha Duffy stated the book "really should be an opera. It has everything the great 19th century operas had and that most modern music dramas lack: a strong plot, fierce currents of jealousy and revenge, a devouring sea ready to roil at an opportune moment, and juicy roles for two women and two men." Eder concluded: "Light and magical, [The Bird Artist] is more searching and suggestive [than Norman's first novel] and it has no flaw at all. It is one of the most perfect and original novels that I have read in years."
The Haunting of L., a ghost story of sorts, is considered to be the final book in a trilogy, commencing with The Bird Artist, and continuing with The Museum Guard: A Novel. As with the earlier two books, Norman makes the most of the stark Canadian landscape around Halifax and Manitoba to set the mood of the book. The work tells the story of Peter Duvett, who begins sleeping with Kala Murie on the day they meet, which also happens to be her wedding day. Complicating matters further, Kala has married photographer Vienna Linn, for whom Peter is meant to be working. Peter has recently moved from Halifax, where his mother recently died—officially a suicide, though Peter suspects foul play. Instead of merely escaping his negative memories, Peter finds himself drawn into the complex relationship between Kala and Vienna and the morbid hoax that Vienna is orchestrating, revolving around photographs doctored to supposedly show souls as they rise from their bodies at the time of death. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote: "The progressive intrusion of the alien and repressed into the familiar … provides the rich base of Norman's art, in which he is becoming a practitioner of uncommon subtlety." Peter Wolfe, writing for Prairie Schooner, called the book "brilliantly spare." According to James Marcus, reviewing for the Atlantic Monthly: "There is considerable suspense here, and great depth of feeling, but it's the sheer, melancholic oddity of the book that will haunt most readers to the very end."
My Famous Evening: Nova Scotia Sojourns, Diaries, & Preoccupations contains a series of travel essays on the Nova Scotia region, including information regarding Norman's research in the area, and the stories that he discovered during his trips. Alison Hopkins, in a review for the Library Journal, called the volume "unexpected, often fascinating, and difficult to characterize." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that "Norman's collection is an out-of-the-ordinary pastiche of personal recollections and historical sketches." Donna Seaman in Booklist found the title to be "rich in mystery, irony, and beauty."
With In Fond Remembrance of Me, Norman offers readers a quasi-memoir of his time spent in Churchill, Manitoba, where he worked with an Inuit elder, Mark Nuqac, to translate a series of oral stories for a Toronto museum. Although he does provide a fascinating glimpse of his experiences, he also looks at the ways in which stories can change and develop based on both the person telling the tale and the person who is listening to it, and how outlook and place can alter even the most familiar story. Norman spent time with Japanese scholar Helen Tanizaki, who was in Churchill for a similar purpose, and is an expert regarding narrative and mythic cultures. Helen shares both her knowledge and her outlook with Norman, as well as her spirit, as she is dying of cancer at thirty-nine. Norman's resulting book is a combination of memories, native stories, and the Inuit version of the biblical tale of Noah and the ark—a story of endurance and faith against painful odds. Sharon Dilworth in a review for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette remarked: "In this wonderful book that gives words and stories and friendships real value, Norman does something more than help Helen reincarnate herself—he shares this wonderful life with those of use who will never make the trek to Churchill, Manitoba." Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman observed that "Norman has a fine touch, and a keen sense of life's splendor and absurdity," while a writer for Kirkus Reviews called Norman's effort "a deep-sounding recovery project of memories new and old, fired by years of reflection."
Devotion, with its rural Canadian setting, bird motif, and short-lived marriage, drew understandable critical comparisons to Norman's earlier work, The Bird Artist. In Devotion, David Kozol and his new father-in-law William Field—David has just married his daughter Maggie—have a violent argument in London during which William stumbles into the path of an oncoming taxi. The short-term result is some broken bones and a trip to the hospital, but he also sustains an injury to his larynx that may permanently damage his ability to speak. Returning to Nova Scotia, David takes over William's duties caring for a flock of swans. But David also has problems with his new bride. Michele Leber, in a review for Booklist, called the novel "a rather slight entry from such an accomplished novelist." However, a Kirkus Reviews contributor found that "the swans are a teasing complex image—of beauty, fidelity, mystery, the souls we like to think we possess and the kind of fragility that invites violation."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Norman, Howard A., In Fond Remembrance of Me, North Point Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Atlantic Monthly, June 1, 2002, James Marcus, review of The Haunting of L., p. 112.
Booklist, March 15, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of My Famous Evening: Nova Scotia Sojourns, Diaries, & Preoccupations, p. 1261; February 15, 2005, Donna Seaman, review of In Fond Remembrance of Me, p. 1040; December 1, 2006, Michele Leber, review of Devotion, p. 23.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2005, review of In Fond Remembrance of Me, p. 218; October 1, 2006, review of Devotion, p. 982.
Library Journal, March 15, 2004, Alison Hopkins, review of My Famous Evening, p. 97.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 10, 1994, Richard Eder, review of The Bird Artist, p. 3.
New York Times, August 1, 1989, Michiko Kakutani, review of Kiss in the Hotel Joseph Conrad, and Other Stories, p. B2.
New York Times Book Review, July 10, 1994, Louis B. Jones, review of The Bird Artist, p. 7; February 23, 2007, Michiko Kakutani, "Only the Swans Know Why a Love Has Died," review of Devotion.
Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), August 29, 2005, Sharon Dilworth, review of In Fond Remembrance of Me.
Prairie Schooner, September 22, 2003, Peter Wolfe, review of The Haunting of L., p. 184.
Publishers Weekly, January 7, 2002, review of The Haunting of L., p. 43; February 2, 2004, review of My Famous Evening, p. 69.
Time, August 1, 1994, Martha Duffy, review of The Bird Artist, p. 59.