Blei Scholarship Named

24 08 2021
Audrey Viste (left) with Pete Thelen, an organizer of the Norbert Blei Memorial Scholarship. Submitted photo.

Audrey Viste from Gibraltar Schools was selected as the 2021 winner of the Norbert Blei Memorial Scholarship. Viste was recently presented with the award by one of the Scholarship Committee’s long-time members, Pete Thelen, a well-known Door County musician. Viste said she plans to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design this coming September.

The Norbert Blei Memorial Scholarship is a $1,000 scholarship offered annually to a graduating Gibraltar Area Schools senior in honor of the memory of well-known, local writer Norbert Blei. Blei was a committed lifelong writing teacher, a talented writer and author, and a lover of words and the literary arts. His career began in Chicago, where he was a contemporary and friend of urban writers, newspaper columnists and media figures like Mike Royko, Studs Terkel and Harry Mark Petrakis. — By Door County PulseAugust 20th, 2021

Poetry Dispatch * On Norbert’s 86th Birthday by Jude Genereaux

22 08 2021

There are so many of us who miss this man …

Due to turn 86 this Monday, August 23 … I can’t help remembering how the bower of “old age” rankled Norbert. He didn’t like it. His ambition and desire for “more” stayed with him; even as physical possibilities limit what we can do in our 70’s, 80’s, Norbert had unending visions of what he wanted yet to accomplish.

That in itself amazes me, now that I find my own intentions to accomplish tasks or travel or create — slow. As his family & friends, and now the archivists, research and categorize the prolific output Norbert left for us, the only word I can accurately use to describe it is: staggering. The list of articles, published work, blog contributions and treatises on a myriad of topics, plus sixteen books in print, boggle any writer’s production.

From his years growing up in the Cicero neighborhood, through to the waning years, Norb’s energy was revved by his surroundings and community. Whenever local events called him to contribute: as Ellison Bay planned to commemorate the stewardship of its “Grand View”, who did they call upon to speak the words the rest of us felt, but Norbert, of course. Same when the “Pioneer” store in our little town was restored after a tragic collapse in 2006. Christmas Eve pageants, readings in Newport Park, programs of “Passages”, kick-off for the “Annual Read” and his infamous Clearing workshops through 2012 – all were made bountiful by his voice and the emotions Norbert brought forth.

So how do we carry on without him? Foremost — we “find him in his books”, as he directed us to do. And in our hearts, where he will always be. ~ Jude Genereaux

Everything That Was Broken

-has forgotten its brokenness.

I live now in a sky-house,

through every window the sun.

Also your presence.

Our touching, our stories.

Earthy and holy both.

How can this be?

but it is.

Every day has something in it

whose name is Forever.

~Mary Oliver

April 23rd ~ By Jude Genereaux

23 04 2021

As yet another black marker arrives on the calendar, the years now come to eight since losing your physical presence in our lives, Norbert.

What will make this one different is sharing with you a goal long envisioned. Your loyal friend John Nelson keeps your legacy in mind, and much as he’s always promoted your work, he’s gathered a few of us to put our heads together to bring substance to that mission.

John and I’ve long talked about getting some of Norb’s work back in print, but in this now 8th year of his absence, John has put this dream in motion. Calling upon fellow publisher, teacher, writer Al DeGenova (who carries on Norb’s teaching tradition at The Clearing each summer) and introducing a young writer, editor and entrepreneur – Norb’s grandson, Corbin Buff of Montana, the four of us have begun the rather boggling task of sorting, choosing and planning to publish “The Norbert Blei Reader.”

With the blessing of the family, the goal is to gather some of Norb’s finest selections in both fiction and notable non-fiction, articles and stories published in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Milwaukee Journal, as well as local Door County news outlets. Sixteen books of published work and his unstoppable contributions to news sources and blogs, the amount of Norb’s archived work is nearly incomprehensible to imagine; the sifting and choosing is huge!

Our aim is to celebrate the depth of your passion for the written word, Norbert, and your unending pursuit to put it out there! To commemorate and honor the legacy of beauty and art you’ve left for us, by bringing together the first “Norbert Blei Reader” … a book, a collection of your finest work.

The immersion in your words is a joy to review and re-live … though I also confess a great heartache; it’s not easy to relive the loss of your presence. It is so huge. Remind us again – we will find you in your books. Always.

“Find these people, who believe in what you believe. And if you can’t find them, then go ahead and print the work yourself. You won’t be the first. And you’ll be in good company. It’s important. You’re important. Someone out there is waiting for, may desperately need whatever it is you have to say.”

-Norbert Blei “Adventures in An American’s Literature.”

~ Jude Genereaux, April 23, 2021

Dear Norbert by Jude

24 08 2020

Dear Norbert –

It’s a strange year you’re missing Norb, this 85th of “You Should BE Here With Us” year. Admittedly, this is not one you might chalk up as having “missed” … for seriously: I can’t see you wearing a mask (though I know you would.) But you should be here.

You should be here for the love those of us who miss you in our daily lives will always carry for you. You should be here for “dinner out” at one of our favorite places (some remain intact) – and there would be CAKE! You should be here for all the right reasons.

I confess, there are some changes here on this beautiful island you don’t want to know of. Some that you predicted have come to be, but others that were unforeseen seem rather shocking. Knowing we can’t stop “change”, those of us left behind hold on to all that is yet wonderful and rare here, knowing what the real treasurer of Door County is. We would celebrate this Happy 85th Birthday day driving down favorite roads, walking the trails by the old house with our good dog Ivan (who still runs out to find you in the Coop when we get near the holy grounds) and celebrate the quiet of the dark night and empty fields. If you were here.

Flowers will be with you on this day, poems will be read and memories will fill our hearts. Because, dear Norberto’: You are with us, always.

Love, Jude


Norbert Blei / Portrait by Emmett Johns

Today would have been my father ‘s 85th birthday … Chris Blei

24 08 2020

Sidewalks by Rick Kogan / Chicago Tribune

15 06 2020

Shadows of the “L” tracks and CTA platforms overhead cover Wabash Avenue in the Loop on Wednesday. Many of Chicago’s downtown elevated tracks were built around the turn of the last century. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune )

Shadows of the “L” tracks and CTA platforms overhead cover Wabash Avenue in the Loop on Wednesday. Many of Chicago’s downtown elevated tracks were built around the turn of the last century. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune )



I have had many walks in this city but none as weirdly wonderful as one last week.

I could have walked any number of city streets but chose one that carried the wounds inflicted by recent frustration and anger.

I have watched protesters on many streets over the last weeks and there was a sense of pain and urgency among the marchers. There was time given to shouting but there was little time in these journeys for quiet observation.

I needed to walk alone and chose Wabash Avenue. I needed memories in the face of an uncertain future. Wabash is not the street on which I grew up and spent most of my life. That street is tucked sedately inside Old Town. But Wabash has been a street I have known well.

The past, its images and sounds, can, even in the face of the world’s many troubles, give comfort. Pick a street you have known and walked and walk it now. No matter how savaged, it can evoke memories for you and maybe hope.

I believe this because when I start to walk I hear Jim Morrison at the corner of Wabash and Congress, thrown back nearly 50 years to a June 14, 1969, concert at the Auditorium Theatre where I saw Morrison and the Doors perform. He wrapped himself in his microphone cord and rolled across the stage as he sang “Light My Fire.”

All along this walk, the past came crashing into the all too real present.

It was a Friday, the weather hot and heavy, even in the shade cast by the “L” tracks overhead, which have been hanging above this street since I was a child, holding it in darkness and shadows on even the most sun-splashed days. I recall that writer Nelson Algren called the “L” “the city’s rusty heart” but think of this city now as slashed and burned.

I know that many of the business on Wabash will bounce back but how high I can only guess. Other businesses on other streets will not be as fortunate. They are already dead and gone.

Central Camera Co. here is badly damaged, but its neon sign remains, reminding people that it has been here since 1899. The store vows rebirth, telling its many Facebook followers: “We will rebuild, and we look forward to seeing all of your faces once we reopen.”

Then comes a voice and it is the voice of Mike Royko, who understood this city as well as any and who wrote, in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968, and the ensuing fires that leveled much of the West Side, “Hypocrites all over this country would kneel every Sunday morning and mouth messages to Jesus Christ. Then they would come out and tell each other, after reading the papers, that somebody should string up King, who was living Christianity like few Americans ever have.”

I can see Mike too. It is the early 1980s and he and I are sitting inside Miller’s Pub and we are with Bill Veeck, who twice owned the White Sox. I did not say a word this night as the two older men talked and drank and laughed and smoked. I remember that is was Veeck who integrated the American League when he owned the Cleveland Indians and hired and played Larry Doby in 1947 and, in time, also put to work baseball’s first black public relations man, trainer and scout.

Soon, the Palmer House is offering me the knowledge that inside its locked doors is its Palmer House Museum, fitting because it is Chicago’s oldest (1873) hotel and the first so-called fireproof hotel in the U.S.

Walking, I remembered too that Veeck claimed to read a book a day and now I am passing on the other side of the street the site of what was once Kroch’s & Brentano’s. It was a paper-on-ink playground, 31/2 floors and the centerpiece of a nationwide chain of bookstores. But it died in 1995, bankruptcy the cause, but hope comes in the many independent bookstores that dot the area, most struggling for the moment but determined to carry on, and when that happens I will buy books at each.

To the west are the windows of Macy’s, all covered in boards. This was once the flagship store of Marshall Field & Co. I remember the picketing and boycott threats that took place when Macy’s purchased Field’s in 2005. That always confounded me. The State Street building was not being torn down. It and the other Field’s stores were not being converted into discount centers. I have a certain historical stake in this matter. My father, Herman Kogan, and Lloyd Wendt wrote the definitive history of the company in their 1952 “Give the Lady What She Wants,” and so I was from my earliest years imbued with the store’s history and the meaning of it all and the memories are too vast to calculate.

The city is, I remind myself, an organic thing, ever-changing, remolding itself in the visions of developers and architects and politicians. And now perhaps the people will get in on the game.

Just before Randolph, I remember the Blackhawk and its fine food and know that older folks walking here might remember its earlier years when it hosted all the big bands/big names of a bygone time: Benny Goodman, Kay Kyser, Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby and Louis Prima and Les Brown.

At Randolph I can see to the east the Prudential Building that now houses the offices of the Tribune and in a couple of more blocks I can see where the Tribune once was, in a Tower now turning slowly into million-dollar condominiums.

Across the river I see not what is there now but what was once there, the squat building that announced its resident in large letters facing south: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES.

I worked for both papers. The Daily News died in 1978 and the Sun-Times lives in the West Loop. The tall building that now sits on the spot has new lettering: T-R-U-M-P.

Ernest Hemingway, a child of Oak Park, once wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

Chicago now has many broken places, some healing faster than others. Will we collectively be stronger at those broken places? I wonder and hope.

The bridge was raised. My route was blocked. This walk was over. The river flowed.

Rck Kogan / 2020 / Chicago Tribune