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Kenneth Wayne Norris was born in New York City in 1951. He became interested in poetry as a child. Around the age of eleven he saw films which were based on the literature of Edgar Allan Poe, and this his drew him to Poe’s works. He later credited Poe as having greatly influencing his early poetic style. Another major influence on his work were the poems of Neruda, whom he began reading in his teens.
In 1968 he pursued a Bachelor of Arts at SUNY in Stonybrook. He graduated in 1972, and after graduation applied to various schools for Graduate studies. He accepted a place in the M.A. program in English at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) in Montreal, as they offered him a tuition waiver and a research assistantship. During his Master’s studies he was interested in American literature, and it became the focus of his thesis, titled “Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the American Night” and was completed under the supervision of David Ketterer. Norris graduated from Concordia University (the former Sir George Williams) in 1975, but for two years before his official graduation he lived in New York, and played in a rock band called Bogart. He then moved back to Montreal in 1975 to pursue his Ph.D. in English at McGill University, supervised by Louis Dudek. In particular, he audited Dudek’s modernism course and became interested in modernist literature, at least in part to the fact that modernist poets were still around, and he could interact directly with them. This increased his interest in Canadian literature, and so he devoted his Ph.D. studies to the topic. His Ph.D. thesis was titled “The Role of the Little Magazine in the Development of Modernist and Post-Modernism in Canadian Poetry”. He developed a close relationship with Dudek; Norris stated he felt as if he were Dudek’s adopted son.
His career as a poet and writer began during his Master’s studies. In the early 1970s he began collaborating with visual artist Jill Smith, who drew illustrations of vegetables. Norris wrote poems in response to her art. In 1974, Jill sent the collection they created to Véhicule Press, without Norris’ knowledge, informing him only when it was accepted for publication as “Vegetables” (1975). This began Norris’ association with Véhicule Press. Vehicule Press was located at 61 Ste. Catherine Street West, in the back of the Vehicule Art gallery, formerly a nightclub. Norris became a frequent visitor to the press/gallery, and he credited the alternative and experimental art in the Véhicule gallery with pushing him to be less conservative and traditionalist in his writing. The other poets that frequented the Véhicule gallery/press coalesced into a group, eventually becoming labelled The Véhicule Poets. He was on the editorial board of Véhicule Press by fall 1975, eventually becoming a member of the board of directors by 1977. Véhicule Press published one more of Norris’ books “The Perfect Accident” in 1978, as well as several anthologies in which he featured, such as “Montreal: English Poetry in the 1970s” in 1977. In 1979 Norris featured in a collective anthology entitled “Véhicule Poets” published by a Maker Press. The Véhicule Poets disbanded around 1981, with a poetry reading at Concordia University called “Last of the Véhicule Poets”.
In addition to his poetry work, Norris started CrossCountry magazine with a friend from New York, Jim Mele, as well as a small publishing company, CrossCountry Press. The magazine, which ran for sixteen issues (1975-83), featured both Canadian and American poetry. The press produced twenty-three books in roughly the same time period, including Norris’ works “Report on the Second Half of the Twentieth Century” (1977), “Under The Skin” (1978) and “Autokinesis” (1980). One of the major funders for this endeavour was the Canada Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. CrossCountry was dependant on this funding, and publication ceased when it was withdrawn.
After the closure of CrossCountry, Norris was the McGill-Writer-In-Residence from 1983-1984. An American citizen by birth, he became a Canadian citizen in 1985. However, he left Montreal in 1985 to take up a teaching job at the University of Maine in Canadian literature. He also taught at Concordia University and Dawson College in Montreal, and was a visiting professor of Canadian Literature at Western University in 1987. As of 2017, he is still teaching in Maine as a Professor of Canadian Literature.
In addition to teaching, Norris has continued to publish, and now has more than two dozen titles to his name. His series “Report on the Second Half of the Twentieth Century,” has now reached books 16-22 (2004). He is an avid traveller, dividing his time between Canada, the United States and Asia. This has inspired such works as “Islands” (1986), “The Better Part of Heaven” (1998) and “Dominican Moon" (2005). Other titles that he has been involved with include his translations of Elias Letelier-Ruz poems, such as “Symphony” (1988) and as editor of “Vehicule Days: An Unorthodox History of Montreal Vehicule Poets” (1993).