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

Gibraltar Schools graduate wins Norbert Blei scholarship, will major in journalism / Green Bay Press Gazette

7 06 2020

FISH CREEK - Solomon Lindenberg, a 2020 graduate of Gibraltar Area Schools, was awarded the seventh annual Norbert Blei Memorial Scholarship, named in honor of the late, well-known Door County writer. Photo: Lucas Smith/Courtesy Door Guide Publishing

FISH CREEK – Solomon Lindenberg, a 2020 graduate of Gibraltar Area Schools, was awarded the seventh annual Norbert Blei Memorial Scholarship, named in honor of the late, well-known Door County writer. Photo: Lucas Smith/Courtesy Door Guide Publishing

Lindenberg plans to move to Chicago this fall to pursue a degree in journalism from DePaul University with a minor in music. He was presented with the award during Gibraltar’s virtual senior banquet May 27 by guidance counselor Chelsea Roberts. It normally is presented in person, but this year it became a virtual affair because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Blei award is a $1,000 scholarship offered to a graduating Gibraltar senior in memory of Blei, a lifelong writing teacher, writer and author, and lover of words and the literary arts. Lindenberg has been writing for the school newspaper, The Viking Voice, since his freshman year and was editor-in-chief during his senior year, when it received a third-place award in the General Excellence category from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. In collaboration with English teacher Linda Fey, he began a program that made student essays and opinion pieces eligible for publication in the student publication.

The school newspaper experience gave him a taste of many aspects of the newspaper profession.

“I learned so much about not only writing content from scratch, but also the world of copy editing, advertising and publishing,” Lindenberg said in a press release.

In October, Lindenberg became an intern with the weekly publication Peninsula Pulse, gaining real-world experience in writing stories and columns of local impact, editing and website design.

His desire is to provide knowledge, insight and entertainment through his writing.

“I believe that as a writer, I will be able to create work that will profoundly affect people, create awareness, and potentially bring about change,” Lindenberg wrote.

Blei’s career began in Chicago, where he was a contemporary and friend of urban writers, newspaper columnists and media figures like Mike Royko and Studs Terkel.

He moved to Door County in 1969 and famously wrote his many books in a converted chicken coop, including his seminal Door County nonfiction book, “Door Way.”

After Blei’s death on April 23, 2013, his chicken coop/writing studio was moved to Write On, Door County, a writing arts organization in Juddville, where it is used as a meeting place for writing seminars and other gatherings.

In the essay he submitted for the scholarship, Lindenberg wrote about growing up in Door County and his newfound appreciation for it.

“I’ve considered Door County to be the comfort zone that I needed to break out of in order to reach my standards of leading a successful life,” he wrote. “I’ve always had my eyes set on living in a big, densely populated area where the vastness of opportunities is immeasurable. As a result of putting myself in this frame of mind, I unknowingly shut out the similar vastness of opportunities Door County had to offer.”

Asked if he had a favorite Blei quote, Lindenberg said, “While I’ve only scratched the surface of Norb’s writing, I like his views on the Door County Advocate … and his column ‘Shut the Damn Door.’

“My favorite quote is, ‘You write to find out about yourself. If you’re in areas where you’re not finding out about yourself, it’s futile. You’re wasting your time.’”

Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or cclough@doorcountyadvocate.com. Christopher Clough Green Bay Press-Gazette / Published 2:41 PM EDT Jun 4, 2020

What’s Not to Love ? by Jude Genereaux

23 04 2020

What’s Not to Love ? 

In a humorous essay titled “Fifty Reasons Not to Love a Poet” I recognized a whole shock of proclivities clearly fitting Norbert. The one that immediately made me laugh:

“All of their furniture is positioned around windows, for them to stare out for hours at a time.”

Anyone who ever visited Norbert in the Coop will testify to the fact that his desk was positioned smack in the middle of a bank of windows that looked out into the woods and beyond to the road, another window at his left allowed him to not miss anything moving over by his first neighbor, Charlie Root’s.

The same pattern was established inside our home: the living room was arranged as a sort of command center. The stereo components were stacked at the right of his lazy boy chair for immediate access to music and public radio; a modest TV sat just beyond, for easy viewing and handy remote control; a pair of head phones were within reach if he chose to see/hear all or both at once. Tall stacks of books fairly toppling over in height, stood in rows around the chair, which was squarely centered in the middle of all this. Most important – that chair sat directly in front of a row of windows facing Europe Lake Road.

Norb’s unending curiosity sometimes drove him to listen to programs on NPR at the same time he’d be reading a book, maybe even while watching the PBS Newshour. Not missing a thing, he would take note of a neighbor’s car returning at the end of the day or a pack of wild turkeys mincing their way through the front yard. He took it all in, the windows a crucial part in framing his observance of Life as it happened. Always close at hand were his notebooks and pens (this too is listed in the “50 Reasons” list of habits), for at all times, Norb was watching, recording, imagining.

What so captivated his imagination in this rural setting, where not all that much went out out there? Observing the rhythm of life as it happened outside the security of walls enhanced his peace of mind, his stoking a sense of the natural world as the changes and beauty of the seasons passed before his eyes. Anyone reading DOOR STEPS can see the progression of emotion in the word scenes he captured of the woods and garden, the sky, the weather itself brought to the page – he watched it all through those windows.

Walking the roads fed his imagination, clarified thoughts … but the simple ability to observe the passages from the geography of a chair, brought a richness of thought few of us experience. Through his words we are able.

The return of spring and warmth and growth and green clearly brought on Norb’s most buoyant bursts of joie de’ vivre. It will always be doubly crushing that he had to leave us in April. April 23rd this year marks the seventh year he has been gone from our lives. But not our hearts.

All of which I would list within an essay on “Fifty Reasons to Love a Poet.” ~Jude Genereaux April 23, 2020