Norman Schwenk was born in 1935 in Lincoln, Nebraska and grew up there. Having early discovered a love of reading and writing poems, and wishing to work as a teacher, he took a B.A. degree at Nebraska Wesleyan University, and then enrolled as a postgraduate in American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he was made a teaching and research assistant in English. In 1960 he won a Fulbright Award from the U.S. State Dept, and for the next five years he was a Fulbright Lecturer in English at Uppsala University in Sweden. He came to Wales in 1965, having been appointed Lecturer in American Literature at Cardiff University.
He was then publishing poems in American magazines and began to publish in the Welsh magazines as well, which he has done ever since. One strain of his writing has been a series of pamphlets of comic verse exploring popular forms—everything from proverbs to advertising jingles--culminating in 1994 in How To Pronounce Welsh Place Names, a collection of limericks. Though all his writing has comic elements, there is a more serious strain which can be found in his first collection, Hats, and which dominates his 1990 collection, The Black Goddess.
One of his main concerns has been to develop what might be called the writers’ infrastructure in Wales, and in the late 1960s and 1970s he was instrumental in setting up the Sherman Theatre (then part of the university) and Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. In 1984 he taught on the first degree course in Creative Writing at the university, and by the 1990s he was Convenor of Creative Writing, administering a wide range of undergraduate courses and a large postgraduate programme as well, including an M.A. in the Teaching and Practice of Creative Writing (unique in the U.K) and a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing. This enabled his students to further their careers in teaching and writing.
Since he retired from full-time teaching in 2002 he has been able to concentrate on writing and publishing. In 2004 he co-edited for Parthian Books (with the late Anne Cluysenaar whom he brought in to the teaching staff at Cardiff) an anthology of poems about St Melangell, The Hare that Hides Within, which won an award as a Welsh Books Council Poetry Best-seller. In 2005 he published The More Deceived: Poems about Love and Lovers; in 2010 Cadillac Temple: Haiku Sequences; and in 2015, again from Parthian, Book of Songs, a collection of song lyrics. In 2016 Parthian published Love What is Mortal: Selected Poems, which brings together collections of his poems from the 1960s to the present day.
He is married to the Welsh writer Deborah Kay Davies, whose fiction has won many awards, including Wales Book of the Year.