Warren Bluhm | The spirit of Norbert Blei remains in this place

12 12 2014
Norbert Blei

Ralph Rausch – Photo taken from the back cover “Adventures in an American’s Literature by Norbert Blei – The Ellis Press, 1982

They came to remember; they came to praise; they came to celebrate a man; they came to celebrate this place, and they came to remember the man who described what a special place it was as it was becoming what it is — often with alarm, always with love.

Saturday was a beautiful Door County day, the gardens at Peninsula Players Theatre were growing lush in the early summer sun, and the highways were comfortably filled with travelers on their way to a destination and friends coming here to pay tribute to Norbert Blei, who died April 23 at age 77.

As the Rev. Michael Brecke put it, Blei was a newspaperman, teacher, artist, poet, and critic, “calling us to task when we stopped loving the land and the water in this place,” and a writer.

“He wrote about the characters in this place and then became one,” said Brecke, who also noted Blei’s gravestone reads, “Find me in my books.”

And for an hour or so, they did: Each of the speakers who shared personal experiences about how he had moved their lives also read a bit from his books.

When Tim Stone first came to Door County, he was told by the locals that “if we ever had a prayer of being one of them, we had to read his books.”

And in Blei’s books they found wisdom — Robert Zoschke read “It’s good to pause now and then and see where the hell you were at” and advice not just for writers but all of us — “the important thing is to get the work done.”

They spoke of the man who would write in his converted chicken coop and teach about the writer’s passion at the Clearing and sit at the counter at Al Johnson’s with a cup of coffee, listening and talking.

“I know that there is a coffee table in heaven and I know that they may have a seat for Norb, but I’m sure he’ll elbow his way in and take over in a short time,” said Annika Johnson, who brought along one of the family’s goats named Beelzebub.

“I love his words, I love his voice, I love his mustache,” Julian Hagen said simply before launching into his song “Northern Light,” and Jeanne Kuhns sang “A Song for Norb,” and Pete Thelen and Jay Whitney led a rousing rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” adopted to Door County.

Stone noted that when the Clearing was struggling for survival in 1985, Blei wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune, “Door County’s Clearing: A Secret School in the Woods for Adults,” the reservations began to come in and Jens Jensen’s amazing vision was secured for another generation. There was much talk about the iconic teacher who worked hard to prepare his classes and stayed late at the Clearing to give each aspiring writer personal attention.

But then Bridget Buff came up, and her voice struggled against the tears as she talked about the man who would read to her as she sat in his lap, and make enormous breakfasts and walk her to the bus stop, and mail letters to her even when they lived in the same house, and how “he loved winter and I did not.”

And that was when we remembered the legendary icon was also a man who loved his daughter and his son Christo. The poet who captured the soul and the people of Door County was also a daddy; in fact Norb Blei first came here in 1969 to give them a special place to grow up.

“His home, his heart and his spirit are here forever, and he wouldn’t have it any other way,” Bridget said.

Nor would we.

Warren Bluhm – Wednesday, July 3, 2013





Richard Purinton | NORBERT BLEI 1935-2013

12 12 2014
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island

I’ve got things to do today, but I find it hard to start on any one of them before first getting this out of my system, if that is possible to do with a few words. But, it’s the best way, for now.

When word came that Norbert Blei passed away yesterday morning, an event many knew was only a matter of days, even hours in coming, a sense of peace came over me. He had struggled with life itself these past months and seemed frustrated at not having his energy back to do the many things he had started or mentally committed to doing.

Thinking back on what grabbed me most about Norb, it was his passion for taking on more than he should, or could do at one time, then quickly building enthusiasm for his next project. And sometimes it was “their” project, or my project, not necessarily his own. He was not a fence-rider or wall flower. He had both feet in, at once, and something about this rubbed off on me, his need to get on with what seems to reside deeply within in order to provide an avenue for expression.

He was both friend and teacher, not that he taught me in any formal sense, and not that we often got together to visit. But, when we did visit the conversation flowed easily and his eyes lit up over nearly any topic, and he became both teacher and friend. Even when his emotion was disgust or anger, his eyes brightened and his words flowed until the subject changed, then he started on the new topic. He was quiet, thoughtful and compassionate, too, but it was the way in which expressed passion for where he lived, and the people he came in contact with, the literature he was reading at the moment, that sticks with me.

As for teacher? I never received a critique from him, never any comment specific enough to make me want to start over or head in a new direction. A few questions from Norb seemed enough. In this unassuming way, he pointed me in new directions and gave me resolve to try harder and dig deeper.

I wouldn’t be writing this piece today – or any essay for that matter – if it weren’t for his silent encouragement, the idea that it is possible for me to write and publish. Write to make a difference, and write to give expression to ideas. There was that pair of dark eyes, and a soft voice muffled by mustache, over my shoulder then, as now. He became a comforting critic, a voice inside my head.

In recent years Norbert took photos and posted them. Some of his photos were excellent, others ordinary, but each showed he was on the job, still working, still an observer. These mostly arrived on my computer screen without words, other than his one-line description. A noticeable loss of energy was seen in those photos, but he still satisfied an urge to be out there, using all of his senses to connect with those he knew – and they were hundreds, if not thousands, in internet terms. On line, this teacher of poetry and literature had a huge audience.

On this day I choose a photo of hundreds of ducks along the shore of Detroit Harbor, remnants of ice still lingering here and there. I think it might look this way in Europe Lake today, too, near Norb’s home, or wherever he drove on his morning rounds when thinking about this place, the seasons and the cycles of life that take place in and around us.

My file photos of Norbert are from the past two years, a time when he was either sick or recovering from serious illness, and they won’t do justice to this man of vigor, energy and quickness. Instead, I’ll retain his image, a vital Norbert Blei with his quiet voice, in my head. – Dick Purinton, Wednesday, April 24, 2013





The Norbert Blei Literary Award

11 12 2014

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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.

GUIDELINES:

  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 keyjmy@aol.com 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.

JUDGES:

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.





Door County Advocate | The coop has flown

30 08 2014

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Chris Blei | Coop News

30 08 2014

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Norbert Blei

Norbert Blei

The Coop has flown

by Warren Bluhm

More than a year after Norbert Blei’s death — and just in the nick of time — the chicken coop where he did the coyote’s share of his work has been moved to its new home.

Contractor John Fitzgerald volunteered time and a crew to pack the structure onto a trailer and move it Tuesday to the Write On, Door County complex at 4177 Juddville Road in the town of Gibraltar. Blei’s property in Ellison Bay was sold in March, and the new owners asked that the coop be removed by Tuesday. “At the time we said, ‘Sept. 1? Sure, no problem,’” Jude Genereaux, Blei’s longtime partner, said Friday. “But then we had that long winter, and one thing led to another. … But it’s done now.” After a season of delays, the move itself went “surprisingly fast,” said Jerod Santek, executive director of Write On, Door County, a retreat for writers that opened last year on 40 acres of woods, meadows and orchards between Fish Creek and Egg Harbor.

“Because Norb wrote so much about the land and advocated for preservation of natural beauty — he did so much writing about nature and the value of place — I can’t imagine a more appropriate location for the coop,” Santek said. “I think it’s going to inspire new generations of writers to write about the land in which they live.” A native of Chicago, Blei moved to Door County in 1969 and became probably the most well-known writer about the Peninsula, chronicling its character and its characters in a trilogy of early 1980s essays, “Door Ways,” “Door Steps” and “Door to Door,” and numerous articles and other works. Often photographed amid the clutter of the chicken coop where he wrote, Blei pointedly criticized efforts to develop Door County and defended its natural splendor. In the early 1990s, he added “publisher” to his credits, founding Cross+Roads Press to publish chapbooks of new and established authors.

The Coop, the studio of the late award-winning writer Norbert Blei has found a new home behind the Write On building, 4177 Juddville Road in Juddville. It was moved to its new location Tuesday.(Photo: Tina M. Gohr/Door County Advocate)

The Coop, the studio of the late award-winning writer Norbert Blei has found a new home behind the Write On building, 4177 Juddville Road in Juddville. It was moved to its new location Tuesday.(Photo: Tina M. Gohr/Door County Advocate)

A teacher and reporter early in his career, Blei continued to teach classes and workshops, most notably at The Clearing Folk School near his home, for 40 years. He died April 23, 2013, at age 77. After The Clearing’s board of directors declined an offer to donate the coop to that facility, Anne Emerson spoke up for the Write On, Door County center she was working on, Genereaux said. “Norb believed in good literature and good writing and teaching, and he had spent time with Anne developing the idea,” she said. “He was adamant that the coop be used as a working space. He didn’t want it to become a museum piece.” That tied in perfectly with Emerson’s ideas. Once it is secured to its new foundation behind the center’s main building and some restoration work is completed, the coop will be available for writers and readers to sit, reflect and work, Santek said.

“We see it as a place for individuals to sit and be inspired,” Santek said. The donation of the coop includes Blei’s “beautiful writing table” and other furniture and mementos that he kept there.

“Norb would love that,” Genereaux said. “It’s a treasure to them; it’s not something that’s just going to sit there empty.”

Write On, Door County has grown exponentially since it opened a year ago, Santek said. Writers from the Twin Cities, Madison and even Boston have stayed at the Juddville center in residency, but the goal has always been for the center to serve as a hub with activities, classes and events across the county, he said. The nonprofit co-hosted a reading by mystery author Erin Hart Monday with Friends of the Door County Library and the Peninsula Bookman. A creative prose writers group has been meeting in Egg Harbor — its next gathering will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Berschinger Center — and a new mixed genre writing group meets for the first time from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Ephraim.

For more information and a schedule of events and activities, visit writeondoorcounty.org or “like” the organization’s Facebook page. Santek said the organization currently has an active grant under which an anonymous donor will match any contributions. For more information, contact (920) 868-1457 or info@writeondoorcounty.org, or send donations to Write On, Door County, P.O. Box 457, Fish Creek, WI 54212-0457. — by Warren Bluhm, greenbaypressgazette

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Blei’s Coop Has New Home

by Pulse

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The Blei Coop moving crew included Michael Bergwin, Jeff Weborg, Kevin Strege, Daryl Bittorf, John Fitzgerald, Bill Guenzel, Steven Beno, Victor Soriano and Tom Allyn were the moving crew. photo by Anne Emerson. August 29, 2014

Door County writer Norbert Blei’s writing temple, a chicken coop in Ellison Bay, was moved on Aug. 26 to its new permanent home on the grounds of Write On, Door County in Juddville, with a fitting view of the steeple and cross of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in the background.

Michael Brecke was pastor at St. Paul’s before going to Kansas City last fall. Michael was a journalist before becoming a minister and has a great love of writing and the telling of stories. It was a conversation with him a few years ago that led to the dream of building a writing center. He is a founding board member of Write On, Door County and continues to feel very connected to it. He was a close friend of Norb Blei’s and feels Write On will provide the setting to continue the work Norb devoted his life to, writing and encouraging others to write.

Blei died on April 23, 2013.





Chris Blei | Norbert’s Coop

26 08 2014

The foundation is down for Norb Blei's coop! It seems appropriate that the view includes the cross and steeple of St. Paul's Church.

The foundation is down for Norb Blei’s coop! It seems appropriate that the view includes the cross and steeple of St. Paul’s Church.

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My Father’s well known Chicken Coop / Writer’s study is now raised off the ground on the property in Ellison Bay, WI….ready to be moved in the days ahead to the “Write On , Door County.” This move is being funded by donors to preserve the coop for generations of writers to come in honor of my Dad. I’m sure I’ll have more when the Coop is put on the truck for the 22 mile journey to the “Write On” campus outside Fish Creek, WI in an area called Juddville. This should be happening later this week. More information and images will be added soon! — Chris Blei

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