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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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





Jude Genereaux | Three years can feel like a lifetime…

12 04 2016

a happy man

“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.

Re-birth

Oct 2015

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.

Coop Day - Emcee John Nelson

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

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Norbert Blei Writing Workshop 2016 at The Clearing | Door County | Wisconsin

4 02 2016

writing

Registration Open! Classes fill up fast!

The Norbert Blei Writing Workshop

July 24 – 30, 2016
Albert DeGenova, instructor

“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:

  • Mornings – Exploring Creative Writing
  • Afternoons – “Writing in Rhythm” (includes more advanced writing assignments)
  • Writer Independent Study

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.

Core reading:

  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Juno Diaz
  • Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje
  • The Dead Emcee Scrolls by Saul Williams

Optional reading (recommended but not required):

  • Old Angel Midnight by Jack Kerouac
  • Selected Poems of Langston Hughes, by Langston Hughes
  • Song of Myself, by Walt Whitman
  • Lit: A Memoir, by Mary Karr

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: al.degenova@yahoo.com.

Independent Study

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.

The Clearing

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.”

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