Write On, Door County’s coop inspires authors

23 08 2017


posted Aug. 15, 2017 7:56 a.m. (CDT) by / Benjamin Wideman, Regional Editor | ben.wideman@ecpc.com

PHOTO BY BENJAMIN WIDEMAN Jerod Santek, executive director of Write On, Door County, stood outside the coop, a converted chicken coop located on the nonprofit organization’s 39 acres of property.

PHOTO BY BENJAMIN WIDEMAN Jerod Santek, executive director of Write On, Door County, stood outside the coop, a converted chicken coop located on the nonprofit organization’s 39 acres of property.

JUDDVILLE — Typically, writers don’t enjoy being cooped up.

But, then again, not many writers try letting their creativity flow inside a converted chicken coop.

Those who have done so at Write On, Door County emerged invigorated by the experience of working in a coop once utilized by the late Norbert Blei, a well-respected Door County author.

“Walking through the squeaking door into the coop became like passing through a veil, where the world I was creating was more present than all the workaday cares that had been tethering me to literal reality all year,” said Zoe Zolbrod, a novelist and memoirist from Evanston, Ill.

Athena Kildegaard, a poet from Morris, Minn., said it was “a privilege to spend time at Norb Blei’s desk … knowing that those who I admire have sat there, too, all of us blowing as hard as we can into the weird and beautiful world.”

Singer/​songwriters like Tim Johnson of Lake Geneva also have embraced the coop, saying, “The coop was great and inspired more than one new song. I’m going to miss going to work each morning in that cozy space. … Nature and nurture. That’s what it’s all about here.”

They’re among more than 80 writers stretching from California to Massachusetts who completed residencies at Write On, Door County. The organization, which formed in 2013 and received nonprofit status the following year, occupies 39 acres of serene property midway between Egg Harbor and Fish Creek, just a stone’s throw from the shoreline of Green Bay.

Writers are inspired by Write On’s winding walking paths, beautifully renovated main home and its most unique feature, the coop, which overlooks a tranquil meadow.

“The coop offers a feeling of inspiration and accomplishment that other writers respond to. There’s a wonderful energy,” said Jerod Santek, Write On’s executive director. “The view out the window from the writing desk is really inspirational. It’s also the history of the coop that really draws people in.”

Blei worked in the coop for 45 years until his passing in 2013. He wrote novels, essays, short stories and poems — many of them advocating for the preservation of Door County’s natural environment. In 2014, the coop was transported about 20 miles from Blei’s home in Ellison Bay to Juddville. Several of his old typewriters are perched on rocks outside the coop.

Nearly all of the writers who take up residency from May through October use the coop. Most stay for a week, but some remain for several weeks. During the colder months, writers often work in the home (where they sleep in one of the two bedrooms).

“We’ve had fiction writers, poets, children’s authors, songwriters, playwrights, nonfiction writers — it really runs the gamut,” Santek said. “We don’t put any limitations on that.”

Perhaps the most well-known writer to use the coop was New York Times best-selling author Michael Perry, who during a week-long residency produced a stage adaptation for his book “Population: 485.”

Write On offers numerous free programs, both on and off site, to writers of all ages and skill levels. They can range from 5-year-olds to 90-year-olds to someone like Naomi Shihab Nye, an internationally acclaimed poet from Texas, who recently participated in one of Write On’s events. Book clubs also use the coop for small gatherings.

Write On began as the brainchild of Door County residents Michael Brecke and Anne Emerson, who wanted to develop a year-round outlet for anyone interested in writing. Santek, a native of Pittsburgh, connected with them, and not long thereafter an anonymous donor purchased the home and surrounding property for the benefit of Write On.

Santek worked with the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis for 19 years, but he was so enamored with Door County and Write On that he moved to Sturgeon Bay and assumed the role of executive director from day one. The administrative assistant is Jaime Jorns.

“This really is a wonderful place of inspiration, and I’m happy to be part of it,” Santek said.

And the writers who visit feel the same way.

“Nothing inspires a writer more than a change of scenery, a change of pace, a change of lifestyle,” said Todd Boss, a poet from Minneapolis.

Fellow poet Donna Hilbert traveled from Long Beach, Calif., and noted, “This place is paradise for writers — the grounds, the walking trails, the coop, the porch swing and most of all the people.”

If you go

What: Write On, Door County. / Where: 4177 Juddville Road, Juddville.

Information: For details about residencies, visit http://www.writeondoorcounty.org or call 920-868-1457.

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Jude Genereaux | Four Years and Holding …

23 04 2017
Norbert George Blei August 23, 1935- April 23, 2013

Norbert George Blei / August 23, 1935- April 23, 2013

 

Four Years and Holding…

Holding on. To memory. To tradition, habits. To legacy.
It’s what we do when we’ve lost that someone most significant in
our lives: we hold on.

Life goes on – yes, yes, we know all that; we’ve heard and repeated and chanted all the mantras that are supposed to bring us peace. Of course “life goes on” … rarely as joyfully or as meaningful. Or inspired. These are the elements Norb brought to my life: joy. Meaning. Inspiration. Both as my Other and as the teacher so many knew him as.

What keeps him in our world now, after all this time? Most immediately we think of his books and all the words he left for us to savor; many of us read and re-read them often, returning to them, to keep him with us. Hear his voice when you read them? I do.

Norb was also a dedicated letter writer, not only on a personal level, but when he’d get onto topics such as the writing life and other writers, films, art –life itself, his letters would take on epic lengths. My shelves are heavy with boxes and files not only of these and his personal letters, but great collections of clippings, news and magazine articles he sent still tumble forth from the corners in my loft. His presence is rich in them. Then come notes and reminders he tucked in books urging me to “Read This!”, underscoring and comments; post-it notes stuck to the pages of my class notebooks, little drawings and doggerel. All saved and richly abundant among the detritus we writers keep at our desk. Messages of encouragement, admonishing, reminding me to: WRITE IT DOWN!

Norbert George Blei / August 23, 1935- April 23, 2013

Norbert George Blei / August 23, 1935- April 23, 2013

The dedication he brought to his own day was a beacon for all of us who shared his vision and passion for the written word.

I continue to pull titles from his reading lists, saved from my eighteen years as participant in his class: a bountiful number of required and “suggested readings” he insisted we experience. Norb focused his workshops on a different genre each summer – the writers of Latin American, Jewish authors, Native American, Irish, Black, the Beats and memoir … more. Besides the dozen or so pre-class readings, during the workshop itself he would discuss and note dozens more we might want to become aware of. I scrupulously made note of all, my intention being to eventually read them, though I fear I’ll never make it.

How many board feet of shelves filled with books were in our home? I should conjure up that number sometime: nine walls, floor to ceiling, holding an estimated 4 to 5,000 books … a tapestry of wonder and knowledge few ever accomplish reading, much less retaining as Norb did. He could search out and find exactly the text he was looking for at any given time, as well as an obscure passage that once captured his attention.

The loss many of us feel at his death is profound. How may we hold onto this amazing man? Here is the one note of comfort I have found: it is he, holding on to us. He stays with us always, in our hearts, our memories and our reading / writing lives. ~Jude Genereaux

Norbert George Blei / August 23, 1935- April 23, 2013

Norbert George Blei / August 23, 1935- April 23, 2013

 





Poetry Dispatch ~ November 2016

2 11 2016

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Poetry Dispatch ~ November 2016

Norb’s rather astonishing life as an artist came to view recently as his admirers and the general public were able to view a sampling of his prolific experiments in water color and other media, many for the first time.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ephraim, WI displayed a good variety of Norb’s paintings in their gallery during the month of October. An Opening Reception was held October 2nd , hosted by partner Jude and featuring three of Blei’s former students who read short passages from his work: Al DeGenova, Sharon Auberle and Ralph Murre, all published authors of Norb’s “Cross+Roads Press”.

As one of Norb’s assistants at The Clearing, DeGenova now carries on his tradition in teaching the Blei Writers Workshop there each summer. Besides being a well known poet and performer in the Chicago area, Al is also Editor and publisher of the notable “After Hours” Journal of Chicago Writing and Art. He read one of Norb’s essays from Winter Book and excerpts from “In Praise of the Country Night” found in “Meditations on a Small Lake”. Al and wife Eden recently purchased a home in Door County with plans to one day re-locate permanently.

Sharon Auberle did just this not that long ago, and is now full time resident of Sister Bay. Active in both artistic and writer’s circles in Door County, Sharon has a bountiful collection of published chapbooks to her credit, and occasionally teaches winter classes at The Clearing and the newly created Write On! Center in Juddville. During the reception, she read an essay from “The Season of Looking Back” found in “Door Steps”, one of Norb’s triology books on Door County.

Ralph Murre serves as the current Poet Laureate of Door County and is a nearly life-long resident of Door, well known in the community as a successful architect. He also secured his Captain’s license from the Coast Guard, but prefers sailing his own boat, and is often seen touring the county by motor cycle as well. As a published poet, Ralph went on to create the “Little Eagle Press” giving back to the writer’s world by publishing the works of others. He read an essay which Norb had contributed to “Bar Code”, one of the “Little Eagle” collections.

Hosting the event, Jude Genereaux briefly described some of Norb’s eclectic collections and their genesis, from his “Berlin” series which was featured at the LewAllen Gallery, Santa Fe circa 1993 and random groupings Norb dubbed as “Mr Death”, “Recovering Catholic”, the “Santa Fe” paintings and more. Heavily influenced by Henry Miller, Ken Patchen and Marc Chagall, their presence can be detected in Norb’s energized art.

The most endearing experience of the showing was seeing people’s reactions – so few knew of his work as an artist, that surprise, amusement and shock were equally expressed. But overall, the most appreciated reaction was feeling Norb’s presence among us once again. — Jude Genereaux

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Exhibit of Blei’s art opens at UU Gallery

29 09 2016

norb

Exhibit of Blei’s art opens at UU Gallery

Artwork by the late, renowned Door County writer Norbert Blei is on exhibit in October in Unitarian Universalist Gallery.

The show opens with a reception from noon to 1 p.m. Oct. 2. With selections of Blei’s paintings as a backdrop, local poets Al DeGenova, Sharon Auberle and Jude Genereaux will read short selections from his written work at 12:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served and the public is welcome.

norbpaintingFew of Blei’s many readers are aware of his prolific visual arts output, comprised of a large collection of colorful, topical watercolors and mixed-media paintings. He used painting as a break from long sessions at the typewriter, he often noted, and to express what can’t easily be communicated in words on a page.

Unitarian Universalist Gallery is at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Door County, 10341 Wisconsin 42, Ephraim. The gallery is open from 1 to 3 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 920-854-7559 or go to http://www.uufdc.org.

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Jude Genereaux | Good, Good Vibrations

1 06 2016

Coop ID

Good, Good Vibrations

I just returned from touching-base w/ the beloved village, Ellison Bay. I know I shouldn’t do it – but, on an emotional pilgrimage to our old house, the excuse being to deliver a few mementoes to the new owners, Ivan and I walked out to where Norb’s working space, the mystical chicken Coop once stood.

After the founders of the “Write On! Door County” center for writing and writers heave-ho’ed moving the Coop to Juddville in 2014, nearly all of Norb’s totems and “forest art” was taken from the surrounding woods: the log that displayed a row of his exhausted typewriters, gone … the rocks swinging like prehistoric wind chimes from the trees, removed … broken bits of pottery he displayed in the sun, thrown away, and the bench where he once took breaks to smoke pipe – has been moved to sit in front of “the woman’s” reflecting pond, now turned into a campfire pit. Even the cement pad that once cradled the Coop has been removed.

It’s a heartache witnessing change, even when expected, so I don’t go there often. But this was spring! with baby buds about to burst in the tree limbs and my feet couldn’t resist following what use to be path to where the Coop once was. There, where the earth has been moved, routed, disturbed and bulldozed – there! bursting forth in blue: a solid bed of ‘Forget-Me-Nots’ blanketed the sorry earth that once thrummed with Norb’s energy. He’s still at work.

Nose to the ground, our good dog Ivan scouted the perimeter of the Coop’s exact boundary, resplendent in the tiny blue flowers. Forget him ~ Not. ~ Jude





David Dix | Postcard memories

24 04 2016

blei card of Ford pickup front 4-23-16

blei pickup card back side 4-23-16

Ford 150 in front pf Pioneer Store, Door Co scanned 8-27-11

Blei haikuish card side B 4-23-16

Blei postal