When Tony Norman '84 arrived at Calvin in the early 1980s, he encountered a world fraught with injustice yet ripe with opportunity. Calvin became the place where Norman, then known by his given name "Marvin," began to look critically at his world.
Norman described his time at Calvin as “playful exploration and some indifference to academics.” He enjoyed spending time in the coffee shop, writing and co-publishing a satirical cartoon strip in Chimes, and making full-length movies with friends, while also sharpening his critical wit and ability to contribute humor alongside substance in serious discussions. Norman also studied political science, but was dissuaded from applying to law school by philosophy professor Richard Mouw in favor of pursuing a vocation that would leave him more fulfilled.
Norman and fellow Calvin alum Ann McBurney Norman ’84 married in Pittsburgh in late 1987, having moved from New York so Ann could start graduate school. After a stint as “the lousiest telemarketer in America,” Norman found a job in 1988 at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he is still employed.
After starting as an entry-level employee at the Post-Gazette, answering phones and entering data, he was promoted to the paper’s pop music and culture beat nearly a year after he was hired. In 1996—by then an award-winning cultural reporter in Pittsburgh—Norman took on the role of a general interest columnist before joining the Post-Gazette’s editorial board in 1999.
While he sees his column as a space where he can be innovative in creating conversations, his vocation as a columnist is more than merely promoting one perspective or opinion. As an opinion-journalist, Norman is held accountable to the same standards of truth telling as his colleagues; however, in his opinion column, Norman responds to a responsibility to take in raw material and hold those in power accountable. He attempts to do so without regard to party politics.
“It takes a willingness to go out on a limb... sometimes telling the truth requires upending uncomfortable cultural and political assumptions and looking under rocks. As long as you can do that without fear or favor, you are fulfilling your responsibilities,” he said.
“A Christian faith,” Norman insists, “could be vital to the formation of a substantive critique of culture. You could be a Christian and a fiery critic of the status quo at the same time. ... They aren’t in contradiction; they are in fact a vital part of the Christian witness and experience.”
Norman’s personal political leanings haven’t blinded him to the reality of a political system that is fallen and in need of a redemptive critique. This notion first occurred to him at Calvin.
Calvin was “the absolute best school for me,” Norman claims. It was here that he learned to write with integrity and still have fun, and to deal with the insecurities that were holding him back. The time he spent on campus reading and engaging in meaningful dialogue with top-notch professors prepared him to compete with anyone in the field.
It is his Reformed faith, which was modeled and nurtured at Calvin, that is the religious foundation for faithful critique. Norman sees his work as an expression of worship and uses his platform as an opportunity to speak constructively and comprehensively about serious issues while still writing with playful irreverence.
Having worked for more than 30 years in journalism, Norman isn’t quite ready to retire. Rather, he sees himself as facing the second half of a life of much fuller expression. He’s interested in transitioning out of the daily routine of a newspaper and is experimenting with other media forms, such as podcasts, fiction, and long-form journalism. He’s now a non-denominational Christian, vegan, and relates closer to Anabaptist and Episcopalian theology. As unlikely as it all sounds, Marvin Tony Norman says he has Calvin College to thank for it.