Norbert Blei

born in Chicago, the author of a trilogy concerning that city and its people, Chi Town, Neighborhood, and The Ghost of Sandburg’s Phizzog has lived in Door County, Wisconsin since l969 and written extensively about Wisconsin as well. He has taught, lectured, given writing workshops throughout the state and the Midwest, and is the Writer-in-Residence at the Clearing (Ellison Bay) where he has guided beginning and advanced students in the art of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for more than twenty-five years. He has published in many of the state’s leading periodicals and literary magazines, and is a frequent commentator and guest on the Jean Feraca show (Wisconsin Public Radio) and has appeared on Warren Nelson’s Tent Radio program (Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua), and the Michael Feldman Show (WPR and NPR). For three years he was a featured commentator on a local literary/ arts program in Door County, “Passages” (WDOR FM 98.7) and had his own hour program of commentary, interviews, readings, blues and jazz, called “The Coyote Hour” on WBDK, FM 96.7.

In l985 the Wisconsin Library Association honored his literary contribution by designating him a Notable Wisconsin Author, and he is included in Jim Stephens’ three-volume literary history of Wisconsin, The Journey Home. In l997 he received the Gordon MacQuarrie Award from the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters for his outstanding work in nature and environmental writing. He is one of 64 writers whose work was architecturally incorporated in a new convention center, the Midwest Express Center, in downtown Milwaukee. In l999 he received the Harry Bradley Major Achievement Award from the Council of Wisconsin Writers for significant literary achievement. He is also a Pushcart Press award winner for fiction.

Blei is the author of seventeen books: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and has received state, regional, and national awards. In December of l994 he started his own small press, CROSS+ROADS PRESS dedicated to the publication of first chapbooks by poets, short story writers, novelists and artists. He was a contributing editor to the national quarterly, FORKROADS, A Journal of Ethnic-American Literature; co-editor of The Door Voice, the literary/associate editor of The Peninsula Pulse, and a columnist/feature writer for the online publication: His nonfiction has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, the Washington Post, etc. while his short stories and poems have appeared in numerous literary anthologies, textbooks, and magazines including the Minnesota Review, Tri-Quarterly, Story, Kenyon Review, Utne Reader, and The New Yorker.

His Wisconsin work includes the award winning trilogy: Door Way, Door Steps, Door to Door, as well as Meditations on a Small Lake and the controversial Chronicles of a Rural Journalist in America–dedicated to the preservation of the rural landscape. Works-in-progress include a novel set in Door County, three collections of short stories, and four books of nonfiction. His most recent works include Winter Book and the first tradeback edition of CHI TOWN published by Northwestern University Press.

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In the forty years since Chicago writer Norbert Blei bought an old farmhouse and settled into northern Door County to live and write, he has built a considerable body of work (stories, essays, poems, public/commercial radio commentaries, public television programs, newspaper columns, magazine articles, online writing, and books) devoted to his adopted landscape, expressing both his love and concern for the stark beauty of this fragile,Wisconsin peninsula.

While the writer continues to address the loss of rural character and community in print media, online writing (www., and books, this new, expanded third reprint of his 1987 bestselling book, Meditations on a Small Lake, remains a testament to the changing times—informative and thoughtful in its defense of the preservation of the natural landscape, be it Door County or any rural landscape threatened by over development and crass commerce as “place” attempts to retain some sense of history and spirit.

The author has added three new essays to Meditations on a Small Lake, and substituted the original photographs of the first two printings with drawings by artist Emmett Johns, casting a whole new light and feeling to the book’ interior.The quiet, starkly beautiful and arresting cover drawing by Charles Peterson of Ephraim continues to retain its remarkable force in drawing the reader into the book upon a single glance.

I reveled in sunrises, sunsets, the eerie but welcome approach of fog…the fields so freshly washed after a thunderstorm, the serene secrecy of snow falling all night while one slept deeply through it, then awoke the next morning to the wondrous transformation of the landscape, a work of art in progress only partially recognizable, finding myself whispering through the windowpane lest I disturb the white world outside, speaking openly of it.

“Silence is the only voice of our God,” said Melville.

He walks in a diminishing darkness toward that moment night recedes behind him, and the slightest glimmer of first light begins spreading over the east, over the road, the woods, the small lake waiting ahead. He has come to love this moment when the night withdraws the darkest mysteries, uncovering the landscapes bare truths—dirt roads, telephone lines, chimney smoke, a black dog watching him from a distance, white birch trees, an entanglement of branches, evergreens, fallen trees…the long history of stone fences.

Meditations on a Small Lake, Ellis Press, 2008, Illustrated, 112 pp.

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