Norbert Blei Literary Award

29 09 2015


Norbert Blei Literary Award

Washington Island, September 19, 2015

In 2013, founders and supporters of the Trueblood Performing Arts Center on Washington Island, just north of the Door County mainland, created a grandly successful Literary Festival, bringing authors and readers together for three days of island living, tours, presentations, dinners and workshops.

The success of the first year insured the continuing efforts of the many reading enthusiasts on the island, and most recently of the Elizabeth Wallman family, Dick Purintin, Karen Yancy and Jerod Santek of the Write On! Center for Writers. At the second such event, it was learned that island residents John and Karen Yancey had provided the funds and dedication needed to establish the first ever “Norbert Blei Literature Award” in the categories of Poetry and Short Story.

Over the course of the subsequent year, writers everywhere were encouraged to submit their work to the contest, with winners to be hosted and announced at the 2015 Literary Festival. Judges for the event were Jean Feraca of Madison, WI and NPR fame, and Judith Barisonzi, retired professor of English Lit at the UW Fond du Lac and UW-BC, and adept at short story.

The winners in both categories each received a prize of $250 and were provided registration and lodging to attend the event. Names were announced in early September by founder of the contest, KarenYancey. They were introduced and given their Awards during the Literary Fest by Jude Genereaux, Norb’s partner prior to his death in April 2013, who noted “Norb would be greatly proud of this event; his love for the art of writing and the support he gave to writers throughout his lifetime was well known, as well as his love of Washington Island”.

The award winner for the Norbert Blei Award in Poetry is Catherine Jagoe of Madison, WI, for her poem The Bargain. Catherine is a freelance translator and recently won a Pushcart Prize, as well as the Council for Wisconsin Writers 2014 Kay W. Levin Award for an essay in Gettysburg Review. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Casting Off (Parallel Press 2007) and News form the North (Finishing Line Press 2015); her poems have been featured on The Writer’s Almanac and Poetry Daily. Ms Jagoe’s poetry and creative nonfiction have been published in numerous literary magazines, and she is a contributor to WI Public Radio’s “Wisconsin Life” series. She has a website at

First Place in Short Story went to Sue Wentz of Portage, WI. Sue notes that she was “privileged to have been mentored by the great Norbert Blei”. Her literary novella The Bluff was first published by Blei’s Cross+Roads Press in 2003. Her second book, Servant to the Wolf, a young adult historical, was originally published by Echelon Press. Sue is a former winner of the Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring Contest, Al P. Nelson Feature Essay contest and she is a two time winner of WWA’s Florence Lindemann Humor Essay contest.

Two Honorable Mentions in Poetry were also acknowledged: Sheryl Slocum of Milwaukee, for her poem Gravity, and Georgia Ressmeyer of Sheboyan, WI for Sea Level Rising, which was read to those attending by poet Sharon Auberle.

Several of Norbert’s former students and authors were in the audience to honor the recipients and take part in the third, very successful Washington Island Literary Festival.

Happy Birthday Norbert!

23 08 2015
Artwork by Norbert Blei

Artwork by Norbert Blei

všechno nejlepší k narozeninám !

Open House…Open Coop

6 05 2015

Write On celebrates the love of writing and reading, along with the legacy of award-winning writer Norbert Blei in an afternoon that will include readings, music, and the dedication of the Coop, Norb’s beloved writing studio. Festivities begin at 1 and conclude at 4. Continue to watch our site for details.

Write On celebrates the love of writing and reading, along with the legacy of award-winning writer Norbert Blei in an afternoon that will include readings, music, and the dedication of the Coop, Norb’s beloved writing studio. Festivities begin at 1 and conclude at 4. Continue to watch our site for details.

Write On’s Second Annual Open House
May 30 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Write On celebrates the love of writing and reading, along with the legacy of award-winning writer Norbert Blei in an afternoon that will include readings, music, and the dedication of the Coop, Norb’s beloved writing studio. Festivities begin at 1 and conclude at 4.

Date: May 30, 2015 | Time: 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Write On, Door County Center, 4177 Juddville Rd, Fish Creek, WI 54212 United States

Write On celebrates the love of writing and reading, along with the legacy of award-winning writer Norbert Blei in an afternoon that will include readings, music, and the dedication of the Coop, Norb’s beloved writing studio. Festivities begin at 1 and conclude at 4. Continue to watch our site for details.

Norbert Blei | August 23, 1935 – April 23, 2013

23 04 2015

Norbert Blei | August 23, 1935 – April 23, 2013


The Norbert Blei Literary Award

11 12 2014


The Norbert Blei Literary Award was created to honor the life and works of Norbert Blei, one of the Midwest’s leading authors and teachers of literature, who resided in Door County Wisconsin.   Norbert loved both short stories and poetry and this contest features categories in each of these genre.


  1. Please submit a cover letter with the author’s name, mailing address, phone number, e-mail and a 50- to 100-word biography.
  2. Include on the cover page whether you are entering in the SHORT STORY or POETRY category.
  3. Short stories should be double spaced in simple 12-point font and not more than 5,000 words.   The author’s name should NOT appear on each page as the judges use a blind judging process.
  4. Poetry submissions should include three poems with one poem per page, preferably in Microsoft Word.   The author’s name should NOT appear on the pages of the poems as the judges use a blind judging process.
  5. No previously published work will be considered.
  6. Submit entries digitally to by July 1, 2015.  Please include a check for $15 made out to the Trueblood Performing Art Center and mail it to P.O. Box 136, Washington Island, WI 54246.
  7. Please note that winners are required to attend the festival and read from their work.

Entries will not be returned.   The first-place winners will be notified by mail and e-mail approximately one month before the 2015 Washington Island Literary Festival.   First-place awards in each of the two categories –SHORT STORY and POETRY — include a cash prize of $250 as well as lodging, meals and admission fees for the 2015 festival.    Winners are requested to read their entry at the festival or to designate a reader for the festival.   Winning entries remain the property of the author and may be submitted for publication by literary journals by the festival committee upon permission of the author.    The judges also may choose to designate honorable mentions.


Judith Barisonzi - Norbert Blei Writing Contest Award - Washington Island Literary FestivalJudith Barisonzi of Rice Lake, will judge the Short Story submissions. Now retired from a career as Associate Professor of English, Judith graduated from Radcliffe College, earned her MA and Ph.D at UW-Madison, then taught at Madison Business College, UW Oshkosh and UW Colleges, 1971 – 2005. She has been a traveling lecturer for the WI Humanities Council, is published in a variety of academic reviews and scholarly publications as well as fiction and poetry, and has received awards for her work in both poetry and fiction from the Wisconsin Academy Review and the Muse prize from the WI Fellowship of Poets.


Jean Feraca - Norman Blei Writing Contest Judge - Washingto Island Literary FestivalJean Feraca studied poetry with Donald Hall while earning her M.A. at the University of Michigan where she won two Hopwood awards and began publishing her work in national magazines. Declared “the most promising poet of her generation,” Jean won the Discovery Award in 1975.  Author of three books of poetry, Crossing the Great Divide was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Wisconsin Arts Board and won the August Derleth Non-fiction award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers for her memoir, I Hear Voices.  Jean is well known to public radio listeners, now retired after many years hosting her own program on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Norb Blei Speaks on “The Courage to Create” with Transcript by Stephen Kastner

10 12 2014


Sunday, September 30, 2012, Norb Blei was the last of four individuals to address the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Door County in Ephraim, Wisconsin on “The Courage to Create.” — by Stephen Kastner

The event was comprised of four speakers presenting their thoughts on the creative process as personally experienced by a writer, an artist, a musician and a theologian. They respectively included: Norbert Blei, Chick Peterson, Katie Dahl and Phil Sweet. In essence, Norb Blei presented a recounting of the story of his life. Little did I know, this would be the last time I would ever hear him speak. Norbert Blei (August 23, 1935 – April 23, 2013) wrote 17 books of non-fiction, fiction, poetry and essays. In 1994, he established Cross+Roads Press, dedicated to the publication of first chapbooks by poets, short story writers, novelists and artists. The following is a transcript of the video recording included below:

I guess I’m in a clean-up spot here. Huh? I know some of you are asleep. Stay that way please! I don’t want to try to bother you.

Phil would probably understand, I have a bit of a problem with today’s theme. So, please excuse me for my occasional contrariness, not to mention, off-subject departures at times, trying to wend my way from what we’re supposed to be talking about and all the stuff floating around in this scattered old mind of mine.

Throw an old dog like me a bone called courage, or creativity, or both… and I’ll gnaw it to nothingness in a matter of hours or days. They didn’t used to call me the county curmudgeon or worse for nothing, you know.

I can already hear Phil murmuring to himself, ‘Oh no! But what else could I expect inviting this guy to my party?’

Then, excuse me please if I uh… take Rollo May the author of the “Courage to Create,” somewhat to task and as you see, I have my old dollar-ninety-five cent paperback from nineteen seventy-five which I discovered in my book shelf just days ago, entire passages underlined heavily in black, felt-tipped pen.

I realize too that I never did finish the book but I… (laughter) I can always tell when the last part is free of pen.

I’ll uh just underline passages in heavy black-tipped pen. I’m sure… I swallowed whole every word as a young writer trying to justify his own life unaware of all the years ahead that it would take to actually become a writer, living those years now some fifty years later, still expecting every morning, with little courage, to be born again the instant that I pick up the pen or the pencil or begin to click the keyboard with the hope of magic appearing on the screen keeping in mind as ever, Hemingway’s sound advice, quote “that every writer needs a built-in shit detector to face the world,” reminded as well of Rilke’s sacred words almost carved into the desk where I am staring out the window:

“The purpose of life” said Rilke, “is to be defeated by a greater and greater things.”

Courage? Did you say courage? You want courage? Don’t look to this sorry creative soul. Look instead into the heart of a thirteen-year-old boy, Bo Johnson, who stared death in the eyes every day and was more concerned about making it easier for others knowing that his own time was passing without ever experiencing all the wonder of all the years most of us are granted. Now, that’s courage.

Let me suggest that it doesn’t take courage to create as as much as it does take stupidity, with more than a dash of curiosity, perseverance and what at times becomes mindless compulsion, a certain helplessness, something you can’t do a thing about but eventually accept it for what it is. This is what you do, all you can do. This is who you are and why you were put here. In my case,to write.

So there deal with that. Do what you can with it. See where it takes you. Success, isn’t even a factor. Remember, the purpose of life is to be defeated by a greater and greater things. Begin with whatever words given you at the moment and make them say what you want them to say or need them to say and just try to get better at the job every day.

At this point, I come to you by way of notes, notes and more notes, the writer’s way, nothing, everything ever quite finished to satisfaction the way most unprepared, perplexed writers find themselves caught in the midst of a subject greater than they can handle given the rush of time and for me overwrought, overburdened, overworked, overextended, lost in a floating mindscape waiting for the restoration of one’s senses, one’s self, one’s energy after a serious bout of bad health two years ago but still trying to put those words together.

So, I note. I scribble. I say to myself, to whoever is listening, or reading, that there is a double life to be content with; the life others expect you to live – friends, family, spouses, neighbors – and the life you have little control living, doing what you want and must do to create if you will. Not always easy, always open to conflict and criticism, being true to yourself.

Do I detect an element of courage there? Well, possibly.

Note: Creativity and chaos how they go hand in hand.
Every day the serious writer tries to establish some kind of order out of chaos. Does that take courage? I’m not sure. I know that the challenge of making something out of nothing but words, words, words and shaping that chaos day after day ’til… Well, there! Everything finds some kind of place. Fini, the end. Not too bad.

Note: One’s personal history in finding his way to the freedom to write and this would take hours, years to deal with. It would take a novel, a memoir, something huge, the message being, without freedom you cannot create. And it takes a little courage to break whatever bonds that keep you from who you are and what you must do.

But back to the stupidity factor I mentioned in the beginning. Stupidity, was leaving a secure job teaching Honors English on a high school level and later literature in a junior college, a contract, a comfortable enough salary, a great pension plan, respect in the family, the neighborhood, among the friends, students who loved what your ability to encourage, to teach on your own terms and was all about? But no! You wanted to write.

So, you threw all that overboard after less than ten years, without the safe money stashed away in your pension fund, traveled throughout Europe for months and months living in Paris awhile, was a rite of passage for every real writer you had ever read. Throwing all that away, come home. No real job. Nothing in mind but the stupid and growing desire to live a writer’s life.

Now, few people would call that courage. That’s not what my parents called it, not what my in-laws called it, and my mostly blue-collared boyhood friends with a future, all on the way to a house and family in the suburbs 0 earning good bucks for what they did with their hands, banking on retirement and social security.

Did it take courage for me to finally get a job delivering mail door-to-door for the US Postal Service? and occasionally filling in as a substitute teacher? …while all the while wanting to write? The explanation of the joke was, whenever some someone asked my in-laws, or my wife, “What’s …he doing?” And their pert reply was, “Oh, he’s thinking.” or “Oh, he’s trying to find himself.” …as I slowly did, beginning to publish my first short stories for little-known, little read, underground literary magazines of little payment but copies, and then beginning to publish major features in all the major magazines and newspapers from Chicago that paid real money.

But was the writer in me satisfied? No. Of course not. Did it take courage to leave all this behind and… I do mean all, especially work …courage to pull up stakes, leave all that behind for the peace and quiet of the backwoods of Door County because everything, the city especially was getting too loud? I couldn’t concentrate on the serious stuff. Everybody wanted to be a writer but nobody was writing.

For ten years, I survived as what was known in the trade as a freelancer. In other words, a gun for hire, living on the road back-and-forth, Door County to Chicago, going down there to look up the stories, take the notes bring ‘em back, write the story and wait for the check. Back-and-forth writing to put food on the table and… writing serious short stories, and essays, and novels, attempting to get at both the art and the matter, which is pretty much where I find myself to this very day, though I have chucked the freelancing for the most part and devote most of my time to honing the art of writing.

Note: Well there’s so much more…
But you people have been sitting here long enough already and I don’t have the time or space and I have no doubt that I have already worried the subject to death and wore out my welcome and I didn’t even get to the serious hazards of …this trade, of any artistic persuasion. By that I mean alcoholism. Because, when you get right down to it, what’s it really all about, Alfie? Nothing.

I have a lost less-than-courageous friends through everything that I have described thus far, writer friends, painter friends, photographer friends, all going down in one way or another.

You want depression? Here’s Joseph Conrad’s wife describing her experience living with one of the world’s great writers:

“The novel is finished but the penalty has to be paid. Months of nervous strain have ended in a complete nervous breakdown. 30 Poor Conrad is very ill and Doctor Hackney says it will be a long time before he is fit for anything 0 requiring mental exertion. I know both you and dear Mrs. Melgram will feel every sympathy with him. There is the manuscript, complete but uncorrected and his fierce refusal to let even I touch it. It lays on a table at the foot of his bed and he lives mixed up in the scenes and he holds and converses with the characters. I have been up with him night and day since Sunday week and he who wish usually so depressed by illness, maintains he is not ill and accuses the doctor and I of trying to put him away into an asylum.”

Here’s another thing in Conrad’s life that often leads to depression, a life that often drives many serious writers a little crazy writing stuff you don’t want to write, but have to write, to survive, writing pot-boilers. I wasn’t aware that this was true even of… uh… Conrad’s life ’til I picked up this biography of him recently. Conrad led with exhausting vitality from his actual roles as husband and father.

There’s a famous anecdote Illustrating a quite literal and domestic instance of that quality of appearing aloof and apart which Virginia Wolf noted in his genius. He would allow Jesse and the boys to travel with him in a train compartment but only if they pretended not to be with him and was once most annoyed when the evidently sorely tired Jesse needed him to help with the luggage.

One biographer has compared Conrad’s literary career and his financially insecure but artistically flourishing period to that of the hero of Henry James’ short story “The Next Time.” Pressurized by his family commitments, the writer then tries even harder to write in the popular manner he feels will provide a money-spinning bestseller only to find that every “next time,” he produces a work more brilliant and unsaleable than the last.

Final note: Where is the joy?
Well, you’re gonna have to ask me back another time to talk about that. But, let me leave you with this, that uh… It’s all joy. That uh… every stupid and courageous minute of it is really pure joy. I have lived an impoverished life, richer than anyone could ever imagine, and to hear just one person say, “You know, what you wrote, changed my life.” end of quote… is the only social security payment that matters.

Thank you.

The “Courage to Create” is a four part speaking engagement featuring thoughts from a writer, an artist, a musician and a theologian. They respectively include: Norbert Blei, Chick Peterson, Katie Dahl and Phil Sweet.

Norb was the last of four individuals to address the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Door County in Ephraim, Wisconsin on Sunday, September 30, 2012. In essence, Blei is recounting the story of his life.

“The creative impulse is hardwired into everybody; it is not reserved for creative types like inventors and artists. Every moment the brain is connecting something known to something unknown, every moment holds a surprise.”

“Creativity,” Einstein said, “is the residue of time wasted.”

Production Credits:
DesignWise Studios, Sturgeon Bay, WI
Stephen Kastner, Video-journalist
Alastair Cameron, Music
Sheila Saperstein, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Recording Engineer


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