Monday, June 1, 2015


Coop Open House invitation, artwork by Emmet Johns.

Washington Island, Door County -

We'll step afield today for a slightly broader look at the writing scene in Door County which seems to be not only alive and well, but gaining a bit of momentum with the Island Literary Festival now heading into its third year, and an ambitious but solid effort to provide writing opportunities at the newly organized Write On! Door County.   And of course, there are many other efforts, such as the ongoing classes offered at the Clearing, plus quiet, independent efforts ranging from creative writing to journalism within peninsula and island shores.

Making connections with fellow writers was also in mind when Steve Schwandt and I drove to the open house and dedication of Norbert Blei's coop, moved not long ago to a field near Juddville. On that Saturday afternoon we joined a crowd of folks who came to hear music, poetry and prose readings - some of it Norb's, some by students of his classes - and to visit, and to walk the grounds and view the conceptual plans for future Write On! facilities.  Of course, we inspected the coop, his writing shack of many years that now seems spacious and empty without his piles of materials, and without Norb at his command center.

With Charlie Calkins inside Norb's Coop.

We met Charlie Calkins, a good friend of Norb's and a collector/dealer of early Wisconsin books and maps.  Charlie and Norb's son, Christopher, took on the task of cleaning out the coop with its decades of accumulated magazine and newspaper clippings, books and associated materials, and artworks, before a crew moved the coop from the Blei Europe Bay property to its new location at Write On! near Juddville.

We took a trip down memory lane with Charlie, the times we had met Norb in his coop, standing room only for a visitor of one, because of the material stacks that narrowed to a single aisle of about 18 inches that led to his desk, where nearly all of his writing and communications took place.   There was the 'Norb Blei Rolodex', the accumulated phone numbers with names and addresses taped to his desktop, at his fingertips for phoning or addressing notes.  And although the walls today are pretty much bare, his many clippings, photos and artworks that were thumbtacked to the walls, now removed since the clean-up, left behind a telltale patchwork of lighter, fresh rectangles against otherwise darkened cedar boards.

Many of the readers at the mic that afternoon were former students of Norb's from his writing classes over the years.   Outdoors it was chilly, breezy and overcast, and standing still in one spot was good practice, I thought, for our upcoming trip to Iceland where June temperatures hover between 40-50 F daily.  But in the hour and a half we were there, we managed to renew acquaintance with many friends, bought a copy of Soundings (a poetry collection representing works by many of Norb's former students), and viewed an architect's rendering for the landscaping and future home of Write On!

Another connection made with last Saturday's activities in Juddville leads into mention of the first Norbert Blei Literary Award, a writing contest now underway.  Poets and writers are encouraged to submit entries over the next several months.   An excellent panel of judges will read submissions, with the winners to be announced during the Washington Island Literary Festival in September.

This festival, now in its third year, will be held over three days, Sept. 18-19-20.  This timing is several weekends earlier than the first two years, in order to better coincide with fall colors and what we hope will be more pleasant, welcoming island weather.

Here is the announcement for the first Norbert Blei Literary Award.  Good luck to those who wish to provide an entry!   -  Dick Purinton

                                              WASHINGTON ISLAND LITERARY FESTIVAL

The Norbert Blei Literary Award to honor the late renowned Door County author Norbert Blei has been created and the first entries in short story and poetry will be due July 1, the Washington Island Literary Festival Committee announced this month.

“As a teacher Norbert Blei was dedicated to nurturing the writing talent of others and we feel that this literary award will not only honor his memory but also keep alive many of the goals of his Cross Roads press, which sought to recognize talented writers by publishing their work,” said Elizabeth Wallman, co-chairperson of the Washington Island Literary Festival..

A $250 prize for both the winning short story and poetry will be awarded, with the winners given an opportunity to read their work at the festival, which will be held September 18-20 at the Trueblood Performing Arts Center and other locales on Washington Island.

Judges will include Jean Feraca, author and retired host of Wisconsin Public Radio and Judith Barisonzi, author and retired professor of University of Wisconsin Colleges.

The theme of this year’s Washington Island Literary Festival is “Spirit of Place: Literature of the Land and Sea,” and will include Outside Magazine writer Hampton Sides, author of “In the Kingdom of Ice,” Lin Enger, author of “The High Divide,” Danielle Sosin, author of “The Long Shining Waters,” and many other Midwest authors and poets.

All writers are invited to enter the contest.  For more information and guidelines, visit       For more information or to register for the Washington Island Literary Festival, see

New coop on edge of Write On! meadow.

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