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 | 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





Karen Ebert Yancey | Blei’s coop dedicated at Write On, Door County site

4 06 2015
Karen Ebert Yancey | Blei’s coop dedicated at Write On, Door County site

The refurbished chicken coop that served as the writing studio for the late Door County author Norbert Blei is now on display at Write-On Door County in Juddville. More than 150 writers and poets turned out for the dedication on Saturday. Jude Genereaux, Blei’s longtime partner, left, talks with writer Catherine Hovis at the entrance to the coop.(Photo: Karen Ebert Yancey/Gannett Wisconsin Media)

More than 150 of Door County’s most esteemed writers and poets turned out on a cold Saturday afternoon last week to dedicate the refurbished chicken coop that the late Door County author Norbert Blei used as his writing studio.

The coop had been moved from his Ellison Bay home to the site of Write On, Door County in Juddville last year following Blei’s death in 2013.

“Every day for almost 45 years, energy crackled from a little spot near Europe Lake,” wrote his longtime partner Jude Genereaux for the text at the entrance to the coop. “Now only a small footprint remains where an old cedar-shingle chicken coop once stood. Converted into a tiny writing studio – the humble, creative cove was where Door County’s best-known writer, Norb Blei penned his novels, short stories, essays and poems.”

The three-hour event featured many of Blei’s contemporaries and students reading tributes to the author, as well as musicians honoring his work in song and instrumental music.

“The day and range of speakers really paid good service to Norb,” said Ralph Murre, Door County’s poet laureate and a former student of Blei’s. “We owe him a debt of gratitude for his leadership in writing in this county.”

Blei wrote about Door County in many of his 17 books, as well as advocated for preservation of the county’s natural environment. Write On, Door County, which promotes writing in the county and offers classes and writing space for writers, restored the coop after moving it to its 40-acre site at 4177 Juddville Road. The organization plans to allow writers to work in the studio, which overlooks a meadow behind an existing building on the site.

“It is important to us that the literary and cultural history of Door County not be lost,” said Jerod Santek, executive director of Write On, Door County. “Having the coop here, as a place where writers can work, preserves that history without making it a museum piece.”

The first Norbert Blei Scholarship awards were presented at the event to two Gibraltar High School students: Makenna Ash of Ellison Bay and Evan Board of Egg Harbor.

The event also featured the introduction of a new poetry book, “Soundings: Door County in Poetry,” published by the Door County Poetry Collective. The collective includes several poets who were Blei’s students.

The anthology includes poems by more than 50 poets reflecting their visions of Door County.

“The day was a celebration of writing and the inspiration for writing in Door County,” Santek said.

“Sounds: Door County in Poetry” will be on sale at The Peninsula Bookman in Fish Creek and other bookstores throughout the county this summer. — Karen Ebert Yancey





Write On To Dedicate Norb Blei’s Coop | Peninsula Pulse

15 05 2015

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719A91Qij2B87593.medWrite On, Door County will celebrate the literary legacy of the late Norbert Blei and a dedication of The Coop (the writing studio where he worked in Ellison Bay) during its second annual house May 30.

Blei, born and raised in Chicago, moved to Ellison Bay in 1968 and lived his passion and joy for writing, teaching and art. He was writer-in-residence at The Clearing Folk School, a position he held for 40 years; edited a Door County arts newspaper; and was editor and publisher of CROSS+ROADS PRESS, which was devoted to emerging and accomplished poets, short story writers, essayists, novelists, artists, and photographers.

With the help of a neighbor, Blei converted an old chicken coop into his writing studio. Surrounded by stacks of books, newspapers, and notebooks, he wrote at his table, first on a typewriter, then on a computer, composing the profiles that would be included in such books as Door Way and Meditations on a Small Lake.

Blei died April 23, 2013. The Coop was moved to the Write On property Aug. 26, 2014. It will be used as it was intended – as an inspirational place set in nature in which writers can work on their craft.

Join Write On for an afternoon of fun and celebration at their second annual open house on May 30, 1 – 4 pm. There will be live music by Jeanne Kuhns & Small Forest, Pete Thelen, Jay Whitney, Al DeGenova, Charlie Rossiter and Mark Raddatz; readings by contributors to Soundings: Door County in Poetry and from selected works of Norb Blei; and family-friendly activities. Open mic readings will be held during the first hour: readers taken on a first-come, first-served basis and limited to three minutes. Chicken paella by Scott McEvoy will be served throughout the afternoon until it’s gone. Bring a lawn chair or blanket and walking shoes to hike the half-mile writing path. Watch writeondoorcounty.org for a detailed schedule of the afternoon.





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.





Door County Advocate | The coop has flown

30 08 2014

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