The parents of Alice Mary Norton were Adalbert Freely Norton, who owned a rug company, and Bertha Stemm. She began writing at Collinwood High School in Cleveland, under the tutelage of Miss Sylvia Cochrane. She was the editor of a literary page in the school's paper called The Collingwood Spotlight for which she wrote short stories. During this time, she wrote her first book—Ralestone Luck, which was eventually published as her second novel in 1938, the first being The Prince Commands in 1934.
After graduating from high school in 1930, Norton continued her education at Flora Stone Mather College of Western Reserve University. In 1932, she began working for the Cleveland Library System and remained there for 18 years, latterly in the children's section of the Nottingham Branch Library in Cleveland. She legally changed her name to Andre Alice Norton in 1934 to appeal to a predominantly male audience and to increase her marketability. From 1940 to 1941, she worked as a special librarian in the cataloguing department of the Library of Congress, involved in a project related to alien citizenship. The project was abruptly terminated upon American entry into World War II.
In 1941, she bought a bookstore called the Mystery House in Mount Rainier, Maryland. The business failed and she returned to the Cleveland Public Library until 1950. Then she began working as a reader for Martin Greenberg at Gnome Press, where she remained until 1958, after which she became a full-time professional author.
She was a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America (SAGA), a loose-knit group Heroic Fantasy authors founded in the 1960s, some of whose works were anthologized in Lin Carter's Flashing Swords! anthologies.
In later years, her health became uncertain; Norton was forced to move to Florida in November 1966 and then to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. From February 21, 2005, she was under hospice care, with her health in precipitous decline. She died on March 17, 2005, peacefully in her own home, with her friend and her cats at her side.
Her final complete novel, Three Hands for Scorpio, was published on April 1, 2005. She was collaborating with Jean Rabe on Return to Quag Keep when she died. It was completed by Rabe and published in 2006.
On February 20, 2005, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which had earlier honored her with its Grand Master Award in 1983, announced the creation of the Andre Norton Award, which will be given each year for an outstanding work of fantasy or science fiction for the young adult market, starting in 2006. The eligibility requirements and award procedures will be the same as those for the other Nebula Awards.
Often called the Grande Dame of Science Fiction and Fantasy by biographers such as J.M Cornwell and organizations such as Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Publishers Weekly and Time, Andre Norton wrote novels for over 70 years. She had a profound influence on the entire genre, having over 300 published titles read by at least 4 generations of science fiction and fantasy authors. Notable authors who cite her influence include Greg Bear, Lois McMaster Bujold, C.J. Cherryh, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Tanya Huff, Mercedes Lackey, Charles de Lint, Joan D. Vinge, David Weber K. D. Wentworth and Dario de Judicibus.