Robert W. Norris was born and raised in Humboldt County, California. In 1969 he entered the Air Force, subsequently became a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, and served time in a military prison for refusing to fight in that war. In his twenties, and following his release from incarceration, he roamed across the United States, traveled to Europe twice, and made one journey around the world. During that time, he worked as a millhand, construction laborer, stevedore, mailman, baker, saute cook, and oil rig steward.
Norris has lived and taught English in Japan since 1983. He is the author of Toraware, a novel about the obsessive relationship of three misfits from different cultural backgrounds in 1980s Kobe, Japan; Looking for the Summer, the story of a Vietnam War conscientious objector's adventures and search for identity on the road from Paris to Calcutta in 1977; and The Many Roads to Japan, an autobiographical novella used as a textbook-reader in Japanese universities. He and his wife Shizuyo live near Fukuoka, Japan, where he is a professor and the dean of students at Fukuoka International University. He is currently working on a novel he describes as "part homage to Malcolm Lowry and Hermann Hesse, part mushroom retrospective, and part expatriate love story."