Kathleen Norris, poet and essayist, was born on July 27, 1947, in Washington, D.C. Her family lived in Beach Park, Illinois, until she was eleven, and then moved to Hawaii where Norris graduated from high school. She attended Bennington College and received a B.A. in 1969.
Following graduation, Norris worked in New York City as an arts administrator, then moved to Lemmon, South Dakota, with her husband, David J. Dwyer (a poet, translator, and computer programmer). Norris has worked as a poet-in-residence with the North Dakota Arts Council, and as an assistant librarian, teacher, editor, and essayist while managing a family-ranch corporation.
The decision to move to Lemmon, the birthplace of her mother and grandmother and a town of only sixteen hundred residents, has greatly impacted Norris’s life and career as a writer. Although a poet, Norris has gained broad recognition primarily through the unexpected best-seller popularity of her personal essays, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography (1993) and The Cloister Walk (1996). Both books draw directly from her life in the American Midwest and her religious quest that began in earnest because of living there. Her religious background is a mix of Protestant affiliations now intermingled with a devoted relationship with the Benedictines, as an oblate (lay associate) attached to Assumption Abbey in North Dakota. She also preaches at Hope Church (Keldron, South Dakota) and at Spencer Memorial Presbyterian (Lemmon).
Norris has published more than seven books of poetry, four works of nonfiction, and numerous journal and anthology articles. She has won various awards including the Big Table Poetry Series Younger Poets Award (1971), a Bush Foundation grant (1993), and a Guggenheim Foundation grant (1994).
Norris may not say that she is Catholic, but when in 1986 she became a Benedictine oblate, she made vows to the Catholic Church, committing her-