Three Milwaukee businessmen organized a social club for German-Americans in 1891. Four years later, the club moved into the old Mitchell Mansion on what’s now Wisconsin Avenue. My annual visit to the Wisconsin Club is a step into another century. I love lingering among the leather-paneled walls, murals, Moorish-themed ceilings, stained glass, and exquisite woodwork of the library and lounges while Council for Wisconsin Writers volunteers put the finishing touches on their luncheon set-up.
Lunchtime brings an even greater luxury: eating among scores of people gathered to support Wisconsin writers, as we did this past Saturday. Readings by eight CWW-award-winning authors offered a delectable mix of genres and voices.
“Nothing really stays put for very long,” local historian John Gurda (Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods) said, pointing to an area just west of the luncheon venue; “All neighborhoods are changing neighborhoods and always have been.” Waunakee High School essayist Hannah Nies (“The Girl in the Moon”) asked whether a sense of place is universal or necessary.
Ronnie Hess (“The Red Shoes,” short nonfiction) spoke of “the urge to tell stories, because the stories call out to be told.” Novelist Judith Mitchell (A Reunion of Ghosts) left me pondering meanings of then: at a past time, after some future event, or an ex such as one’s then-spouse. Poets Ronald Wallace (For Dear Life) and John Walser (five poems in various journals), short story writer Matt Cashion (“Any Idiot Can Feel Pain”), and children’s writer Gayle Rosengren (Cold War on Maplewood Street) rounded out the program, a feast for the ears as well as the palate.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.