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)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or send donations to Write On, Door County, P.O. Box 457, Fish Creek, WI 54212-0457. — by Warren Bluhm, greenbaypressgazette
Blei’s Coop Has New Home
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.