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Helen Norris Papers

Identifier: MSS-4084

Scope and Contents

The collection contains typescript copies of several unpublished novels as well as plays, essays, and poems written by Helen Norris.


  • after 1950


Conditions Governing Access

Access to this collection has been restricted by Special Collections in order to preserve the original materials. Contact University Libraries Special Collections at or 205.348.0500 for information on access to this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are responsible for using the materials in conformance with United States copyright law as well as any donor restrictions accompanying the materials. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any copyright claimants in collection materials. Copyright for official University records is held by The University of Alabama. The library claims only physical ownership of many manuscript collections. Anyone wishing to broadcast or publish this material must assume all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants of literary property rights or copyrights. Please contact Special Collections ( with questions regarding specific manuscript collections. For more information about copyright policy, please visit: Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals without the consent of those individuals may have legal implications, for which the University of Alabama assumes no responsibility.

Biographical / Historical

Helen Norris, daughter of Elmer Wharton and Louise Brown Norris, was born in Miami, Florida, on June 22, 1916. She moved with her family to Montgomery, Alabama, at an early age. She attended the University of Alabama and earned her bachelor's degree in English in 1938 and her master's degrees in creative writing in 1940. She became the first person in a southern college or university to receive an MA degree using a work of creative writing in lieu of a thesis. That thesis was a draft of what became her first novel, Something More Than Earth, which was published in 1940.

Shortly after graduating, she married Thomas Reuben Bell Jr., a UA Law School graduate, and moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and later Sylacauga, Alabama. The couple had two children: Tommy and DeeDee. The marriage ended in divorce in 1965 after DeeDee was killed by a car while riding a bike at age 13. In 1966, after a year working toward a PhD at Duke University, she returned to Montgomery, where she taught English at Huntingdon College. After her retirement in 1979, she devoted her time once again to her writing.

Norris published five novels and five collections of short stories. Two of her short stories have been made into television films, the first by HBO in 1988 and the other by PBS in 1999. She won several literary awards including the Andrew Lytle Prize for Best Short Story (twice) and had stories included in the O. Henry Awards Prize Stories in 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1991. She was awarded the Harper Lee Award for Alabama's Distinguished Writer in 2000, the Alabama Library Association's Alabama Author Award in 2002, and was elected the sixth Poet Laureate of Alabama from 1999-2003.

In 2003, Norris moved to Black Mountain, North Carolina. She died on November 18, 2013.


2.4 Linear Feet (typescript copies of her novels, poetry, plays, and essays)

Language of Materials



Typescript copies of several plays, poems, and novels


gift of Thomas R. Bell and Kathleen Thompson, 2014

Processed by

Martha Bace, 2015, 2018



Guide to the Helen Norris Papers
January 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266