“The presence of his absence is everywhere”.
~Edna St Vincent Millay
Three years can feel like a lifetime and still be as fresh as yesterday in our emotions. April 23rd, 2013 Norbert Blei left this earth and all of us and all we loved and all he loved. Three years this month since our last morning together, since last waking to see his face next to mine … leaving all of us an emptier world without his rumbling voice and incomparable laughter.
Many people who loved Norbert Blei have come together in ways that honor him and carry on his legacy of stewardship for the life of writers.
After the shock of his loss settled into our being with a private service for him, a fittingly grand Memorial was planned for June, 2013. Set in the theatre of Peninsula Players near Fish Creek, Norb’s friends and relatives from all over the midwest and beyond came to say goodbye and to hear his words set free in the open air.
Norb’s special friend, pastor Michael Brecke welcomed those attending, and introduced the folk singers, musicians and writers who sang and read for him: Julian Hagen, Pete Thelen, Jay Whitney; Jeanne Kuhns gifted us with an original song composed for Norb. Writers Marty Robinson, Marianne Ritzer, Robert Zoschke, Alice D’Alessio and Al DeGenova read passages from Norb’s work; Annika Johnson brought goats and family memories of her father and Norb’s friendship, to everyone’s delight. Tim Stone shared his deep feelings for Norb gained through many years of working and advocating for him at The Clearing, a place Norb loved dearly.
At the conclusion of this amazing afternoon, Norbert’s beloved son and daughter, Christopher and Bridget invited all to gather at the Edgewood Orchard Gallery for gnoshing and a final toast to their Father. It was as grand a time as anyone could wish for, honoring this unique person in our lives.
But it didn’t stop there.
Wanting to preserve Norbert’s infamous chicken coop, his writing “studio” for posterity, Bridget and Chris donated the building to the Write On Door County! center for writers at Juddville. After an anxiety ridden year of fund raising, moving plans and a successful ride down Highway 42 – the infamous Blei Coop now stands proudly in the sun where the loving hands and inspired efforts of Anne Emerson, Jerod Santek and many others stand watch over his precious legacy.
There exists for Norb a core of students who attended his summer workshops at The Clearing year after year, some continuously over 25 years. I lovingly refer to them as the Blei-Tribe. Within days after his death, many of us began sharing essays written which Norb had requested from a number of us; these were to focus on the meaning writing had in our lives and the impact of The Clearing. Norb’s intent was to gather these into a chapbook dedicated to The Clearing.
We soon discovered that central in all of them was also the impact of having had Norb as teacher. As we read each other’s work, the mission became clear to go forward with the chapbook he had intended. “The Professor’s Quarters” came into being early in 2014. This same Blei-Tribe then raised the funds to get it to publication, proudly donating cases of the book to The Clearing, the proceeds to go to their “Norbert Blei Scholarship Fund”. It can be found there at the book store.
In the winter of 2013, the Board of the Council for Wisconsin Writers renamed its Nonfiction Book Award the Norbert Blei/August Derleth Nonfiction Book Award, to recognize Norb’s significant contribution to the Wisconsin literary archive. This wonderful honor was the start of others that continue to bring Norb’s work to our attention.
Norb’s blues-belting friend Pete Thelan originated an idea for a local scholarship to be awarded to promising young writers from the Gibraltar high school. Funded by ten of Norb’s family members and friends, this spring 2016 will mark the third year that $1,000 scholarship will be given in Norb’s honor to a graduating senior.
The intensive efforts of Norbert’s former publisher, friend Dave Pichaske, archiving Norb’s extensive body of work and making contact with UW Madison Library officials, resulted in the UW accepting Norb’s work into the hallowed halls in summer of 2014. Eventually his historical work, and much which was never published will be available to all on-line, thanks to Pichaske’s exhaustive efforts.
A chilly but festive afternoon in May 2015 brought more reading and memories of Norbert as the Write On! Board of Directors hosted an Open House to dedicate the Coop to its new life of service. John Nelson presided over nearly a full day of music and voices honoring Norbert: Susan O’Leary, Pete Thelan, Jay Whitney, Al DeGenova, Charlie Rossiter, Jeanne Kuhns Mark Raddatz, Lars and Rolf Johnson, Charles Peterson, Kaaren Weiss, Tim Stone and the poets of Door County all united in music, in poetry and in love, for Norbert Blei.
It continues: Susan O’Leary and Al DeGenova, former teaching partners of Norb’s, have each stepped up to carry on the tradition, offering their own flights of word wizardry at workshops in the holy grounds of The Clearing.
In 2015, John and Karen Yancey created the first annual “Norbert Blei Literary Award” to be announced during the Washington Island Literary Fest on Washington Island. One of Norb’s former students herself, Karen contributed her time and efforts in establishing the event, and the Yanceys donated the funds to award winners Catherine Jagoe (Poetry) and Sue Wentz (Short Story) each a $250 check for their winning work.
We are not yet finished.
These events form a continuing legacy honoring Norbert, even as new ones spring into being. In October 2016, the Sister Bay Unitarian Universalist Fellowship will host a showing of Norb’s prolific, but lesser known work in water color painting. There will be a reading of his work at the opening, with his paintings available for viewing throughout the month of October. Many will be surprised to learn that he was a talented artist as well as writer. As Norbert would say: the beat goes on …
For all of this, and for all of you who’ve made these significant events happen: I can hardly express how deeply grateful I am as I hear in my heart, Norbert’s proud chuckle.
Shantih ~ Jude
“The Bible says we are dust and shall return to dust.
But we are much more than dust.
We are energy which is interchangeable with light.
We are fire and water and earth.
We are air and atoms and quarks.
We are dreams and hopes and fears
held together by wisdom
and driven apart by folly.
So much more than dust.
What the Bible should say is:
… You were a miracle and we return you to
the mystery from which you came”.
~ Rev. Phil Sweet
Registration Open! Classes fill up fast!
The Norbert Blei Writing Workshop
“Writing in Rhythm”
Overview of Creative Writing
Writer Independent Study
at The Clearing Folk School,
Ellison Bay (Door County), Wisc.
These classes are taught in the tradition of renowned writer and teacher Norbert Blei (1935-2013), who passed the torch of his 40+ year writing class at The Clearing to Albert DeGenova and Susan O’Leary (Susan will be teaching “The Writer’s Craft,” May 8-14, 2016 also at The Clearing). Albert will be continuing Norb’s vision of a week that includes introductory and advanced classes, individual conferences, and the camaraderie of a community of writers.
Please choose one of these classes when registering:
Overview of Creative Writing
For Burgeoning Writers. This class will explore the major areas of creative writing: poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Students will consider various writing techniques, discuss journal writing, poetry and prose poems, short story writing, the personal essay and blogs, and the significance of poetic devices as the basis of all creative writing, what “story” means in our lives, as well as an overview of the promises of publication. Class sessions will be devoted to discussion, in-class writing, and constructive criticism. No one need feel intimidated or out of place regardless of age, background or ability…all that is a required is the urge and desire to write.
“Writing in Rhythm”
From Walt Whitman, to the jazz of the Beats, to Break Beat hip-hop poetry, writers put life into words on the page by recreating the music and rhythms of everyday conversation. While focusing on readings from authors with an acute rhythmic sensibility and an ear for conversation, this class will explore how “writing what you hear come in the window” (as Jack Kerouac put it) can enliven prose, as well as inform the crafting of free verse lines. Students will be challenged to hear the music and rhythm in the words around them, those on the page, and those they write themselves.
Optional reading (recommended but not required):
Advanced Writing Individual Conferences
Afternoon Section: For practicing writers (any genre) with some history of publication, Albert will schedule individual meetings with advanced students who submit manuscript excerpts and/or writing projects to him one month in advance of class (10-page maximum). For further information (and before submitting materials), please contact Albert: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Open to anyone with a desire to spend a week at The Clearing during the writing workshop session. No class work, writing assignments, or reading obligations. Consider yourself welcome to monitor the writing classes and programs. This could be a valuable week of insights into the writing life. Recommended as well for people who love to read and would enjoy spending a week as part of a community of fine writers.
Write, relax, learn…getaway from it all!!! This is famed landscape architect Jens Jensen’s dream come true. Read Albert’s essay on his relationship to The Clearing and Norbert Blei here: “Jensen’s Great Poem.”
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. http://truebloodpac.com/3rd-annual-washington-island-literary-festival/
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 http://www.catherinejagoe.com
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.
August 2 – August 8, 2015
This class is in the tradition of Norbert Blei (1935- 2013)—a week that includes introductory and advanced classes. Students choose one of these options when registering: Class #50: Overview of Creative Writing for beginning writers. (Class meets in mornings.) Class #51: First-person confessional for advanced writers. (Class meets in afternoons.) Class #52: Independent Study.
Overview Of Creative Writing: For burgeoning writers, this class will explore the major areas of creative writing: poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Writing techniques, journal writing, poetry and prose poems, short story writing, personal essay, blogs, the significance of poetic devices as the basis of all creative writing, what “story” means in our lives, and an overview of the promises of publication will be discussed. Sessions will be devoted to discussion, in-class writing and constructive criticism. All that is required is the urge and desire to write.
First-Person Confessional: As “autobiographical” detail has become the norm in contemporary writing, this class will look at how the confessional writers opened the door to the 21st century phenomena which is slam poetry and the explosion of personal memoir onto the best-seller lists. With a focus on this writing genre, the class will explore how much confession is too much. Poets Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath let their first-person personas detail personal experiences deeper and more honestly than any women who had preceded them. Their “confessional” style was courageous, but not without criticism. Students will examine their own writing for those recurring themes of personal experience and detail that may or may not enhance their work. Core reading: Selected Poems of Anne Sexton by Anne Sexton, Ariel by Sylvia Plath and Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros. Additional readings: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes and Big Sur by Jack Kerouac.
Advanced writers with some history of publication may schedule individual meetings with Albert if they submit manuscript excerpts and/or writing projects to him one month in advance of class. Please contact Albert at email@example.com before submitting materials. Overview Of Creative Writing: For burgeoning writers, this class will explore the major areas of creative writing: poetry, fiction and nonfiction.
Independent Study: This is open to anyone with a desire to spend a week as part of a community of fine writers. There is no class work, and there are no writing assignments or reading obligations. You are welcome to join the writing classes and programs.
Albert Degenova began his studies with Norbert Blei in 1996. He is a poet, writer, editor and publisher. Albert is the author of four books of poetry, and for the past 30-plus years has worked as a journalist and marketing communications professional. In June of 2000, he launched the literary/arts journal After Hours, for which he continues as publisher and editor. In 2014, After Hours Press published The Professor’s Quarters, student perspectives on Norbert Blei and his class at The Clearing. Albert holds a master of fine art in writing and is an adjunct professor at Concordia University in River Forest, Illinois. He is also a blues saxophonist and a one-time contributing editor to Down Beat magazine.
$985 Dorm Room Package
$1025 Two-Person Room Package
$1435 Single-Person Room Package (limited availability)
$550 Commuter Package (limited availability)
Be sure to read Registration Information for complete registration details.