George Leslie Norris FRSL (21 May 1921 – 6 April 2006), was a prize-winning Welsh poet and short story writer. Up to 1974 he earned his living as a college lecturer, teacher and headmaster. From 1974 he combined full-time writing with residencies at academic institutions in Britain and the United States.
Today he is considered one of the most important Welsh writers of the post-war period. His collections of stories, including Collected Stories, and poems, including Collected Poems, have won many prizes, among them the Cholmondeley Poetry Prize, the David Higham Memorial Prize, the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Award, the AML Award for poetry (in 1996) and the Welsh Arts Council Senior Fiction Award.
George Leslie Norris was born in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. His father George was a tall athletic man lacking education, because he had to fight in the First World War. After the war his father was employed as an engineer in a coal mine. Leslie had two younger brothers, Eric and Gordon.
Leslie had a cheerful childhood. When he was nineteen years old he joined the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. Leslie initially trained as a pilot, but was injured when he collided with another plane on the ground while practicing landings. After his recovery, he spent the remainder of his time in the Air Force playing football on the Air Force team.
When Leslie was a teenager he sent his first poems to Vernon Watkins who found his poems not very profound, but gave him some advice. This had a main influence on his writing style for years. In his free time he wrote poems and earned his money by being an unofficial worker for the local government. Then he worked as a teacher and rose to a headmaster, finally to a college lecturer. Later in 1974, at the urging of his wife Catherine (Kitty) Morgan, he started his career as a professional writer of poems and stories.
Leslie and Kitty had one child, who died in infancy.
In 1981 and 1982 Leslie Norris was a visiting poet-in-residence at the University of Washington, where he taught and made deep friendships. in 1982, along with his friend, the late Professor Nelson Bentley, Norris helped the successful start of a student's literary magazine (Fine Madness) by inviting his friends and students in Great Britain and the U.S. to submit poems.
In 1983 Norris was invited to teach for six months at Brigham Young University in Utah, United States of America. He settled with his wife, Catherine Morgan, and remained there until his death. He was appointed the official Poet-in-Residence at the university. He contributed to the cultural life of Provo (and of the entire Utah Valley) by organizing Eisteddfods, the traditional Welsh cultural festivals. Among his last works were a series of autobiographical poems, some of which have been published separately, but which he hoped would constitute one poem sequence something like this Wordsworth's Prelude.
Norris started writing poems at the age of seven years, but his career as a published author began in the 1940s, when his first collection Finding Gold was published.
His works deal with such themes as his Welsh home, his past, especially the pre-war period, his experiences as a teacher, nature, and the life of the instinct. He is considered to be a fine technician. Interviews and lectures with Leslie show that he never sat down planning to write. He simply played off inspiration he received at various times of the day. When he would resume writing after stopping for the day, he would re-read everything he had so far, so as to maintain the style.
Tribute from Dean Rosenberg
"His obituaries ran from his native Wales to his adopted Provo, through every other place of literary prominence in between. His poetic voice was pure, authentic, and deceptively simple. He was great in a land of great poets. He was also a primary school teacher. And a headmaster. Though he went on to publicly prestigious things, he remained a teacher. He taught the most gifted creative writing students at BYU and helped launch their careers; he also read his stories and poems to countless school children." John R. Rosenberg, Dean of the BYU College of Humanities, in Humanities at Brigham Young University, Summer 2006.
- Daniel Westover and Jesse Crissler (eds.): Literature and Belief, Special Leslie Norris Issue, vols. 29 and 30.1, 2010.
- Eugene England and Peter Makuck (eds.): An Open World: Essays on Leslie Norris, Camden House, Columbia, SC, 1994
- James A. Davies: Leslie Norris, University of Wales Press, Cardiff 1991
- Dictionary of Literary Biography
- Chapter 5 on Leslie Norris, of "Wordsworth's Influence On 20th Century Welsh Poets", unpublished dissertation by James Prothero in the National Library of Wales and University of Wales, Lampeter library. This includes two letters and two long interviews with Norris which may have been some of the last interviews with him.
- Wells College Press profile: Leslie Norris Captured December 2, 2005.
- CREW Welsh Writers Online: Leslie Norris Captured 2 December 2005.
- 'An astonishing life' — Poet Leslie Norris Article on deseretnews.com. Captured 2 December 2005.