Writing on the Door:
Washington Island Literary Festival
Writers' Walk

What Is the Washington Island Writers' Walk?

From the early Native American writers who left their hieroglyphs on Rock Island to Thorsten Veblen, who wrote the Theory of the Leisure Class in his cabin on Little Lake to Clay Blair, a renowned author of military history, the quiet beauty of this island has inspired writers and other artists for centuries.

Since the Washington Island Literary Festival began in 2013, it has brought dozens of nationally known writers to the island whose books often have Midwest settings or characters. The books and readings by these authors support the theme of each year's festival.

The Writers' Walk distills the many pages of written words by each year's authors down to a quote of several sentences that captures the best of each literary festival.


We invite you to experience some of the most inspiring writing from each festival by walking, biking or driving the path of the Writers' Walk. At each stop, you will find a brass plaque with a quote from one of the literary festival's authors. We hope the quotes will educate and inspire you.

As you journey from one plaque to another, you will also discover some of the island's special places and the beauty of this Great Lakes oasis that continues to spark the imagination and creativity of so many people.

Writers' Walks Through the Years

Farm Museum, Jackson Harbor Road | 2019 Festival, Generational

Hamilton grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, the youngest of five children. She won prizes for poetry and short stories throughout high school and college, but was always told that being a writer would not be a viable career. Because she was not a good speller, she did not believe she could be a copy editor, or editor, either. Hamilton graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota in 1979 as an English major.

Hamilton was accepted as an intern with Dell Publishing for Children after college and set out for New York with intention of becoming an editor. She reports that she stopped to visit a friend's apple orchard in Rochester, Wisconsin. It was there that she met her future husband, a partner in the orchard operation. Soon after, she moved to the orchard farmhouse, which allowed her the freedom to write during the off-season for harvesting. 

Her first novel, The Book of Ruth, was published in 1988 and won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, Great Lakes College Association New Writers Award, and the Wisconsin Library Association Banta Book Award in 1989. The Book of Ruth was an Oprah's Book Club selection in 1996, and it was the basis for a 2004 television film of the same title.

In 1994, she published A Map of the World, which was adapted for a film in 1999 and the same year was also an Oprah's Book Club selection. Her third novel, The Short History of a Prince, published in 1998, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998. This book was also shortlisted for the 1999 Orange Prize. In 2000, Hamilton was named a Notable Wisconsin Author by the Wisconsin Library Association.

All of her books are set, at least in part, in Wisconsin. A Map of the World is set in Racine County, Wisconsin. Of her writing, novelist Laura Moriarty says: "I like Jane Hamilton for her compassionate portrayals of characters most people would ridicule, and the way her books show the beauty of rural life without romanticizing it."

Washington Island Ferry Office | 2018 Festival: Words on Water

Dick Purinton was born in 1947 in Sturgeon Bay, and his home was along the shores of the bay itself. Whether messing around in a rowboat or sailing-which Purinton did quite a bit when growing up-he came to appreciate the water and its related activities.

When Purinton transferred from Valparaiso University to begin his junior year at UW-Madison, in 1967, he was thrilled to leave the endless Indiana cornfields behind. His second day as a transfer he joined the UW Crew rowing team, a sport that allowed him the pleasure of glancing back at campus buildings, the State Capitol, and shoreline homes bordering Lake Mendota.

Upon graduation in January 1970 with a BA-Journalism, he served four years as a U. S. Navy Quartermaster in ship navigation. During this time, he married Mary Jo Richter, and his first son, Hoyt, was born. Within seven years they had a daughter, Evelyn, and another son, Thordur. His home became Washington Island, where he worked for his father-inlaw, Arni Richter, the owner of the Washington Island Ferry Line. Purinton worked first as a deckhand, then as captain. In time, he assumed general manager duties as well. This became his life's work, the daily involvement and responsibilities of ferry operations. 

In 1990, he edited a Ferry Line 50th Anniversary commemorative book, Over and Back - a Picture Transportation History of Washington Island. That experience led to a video production a few years later, the story of the 1994 breakwall project at Northport. In 2003, he again wrote script and edited a video, this time the story of construction of an all-season ferry at Bay Shipbuilding Company, the Arni J. Richter. 

Late in 2006, Door County Author Norbert Blei challenged him to write a journal from a ferry captain's point of view. This he did, and he expanded it with general Island observations. In 2009, he was pleased when Norbert's Cross+Roads Press in Ellison Bay published Words on Water-A Ferryman's Journal. That book's acceptance by local readers inspired him to pursue additional writing projects.

In the years since that publication, Purinton has continued writing and self-publishing, under his Island Bayou Press label. Nearly all his work has been non-fiction. He combine elements of local history with comments on Island living, describing the transition from an Island community centered around commercial fishing, farming, and logging, to one that is today almost completely tourism dependent.

Art and Nature Center, 1799 Main Road | 2017 Festival, Exploring Frontiers: Real and Imagined

Dan Egan's The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (2017) has been described as "a landmark work of science, history and reporting on the past, present and imperiled future of the Great Lakes." Meticulously researched and accessibly written, the book has received
wide recognition for its fair-minded investigation of an ecosystem under threat. Egan is a prize-winning reporter from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. As a specialist in water policy, he is a senior fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's School of Freshwater Sciences. A graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, Egan lives in Milwaukee.

Trueblood Performing Arts Center, 870 Main Road | 2016 Festival, Mystique and Mystery of the Midwest

Kimberly Blaeser was appointed Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2015-2016 and is a passionate spokesperson for literature, the arts, and social justice. She takes as her mission the insertion of poetry into everyday lives (at baseball games!) and the support of Wisconsin poets. Her books include Apprenticed to Justice and Absentee Indians and Other Poems, and she is the editor of several anthologies of poetry. She teaches creative writing and Native American literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and is an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa tribe. Her poetry has been praised as a celebration of nature, family, and Native
American traditions.

Gathering Grounds, Airport Road | 2015 Festival, Spirit of Place: Literature of the Land and Sea

Writer, educator, and naturalist, Hildebrand has lived in Wisconsin since 1973 and is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire. His essays and books, including Mapping the Farm, focus on how people relate to the natural world.

John Hildebrand is the author of three nonfiction books, the most recent of which is A Northern Front (2005), a collection of essays that previously appeared in such magazines as Harper's, Audubon, Outside, Sports Illustrated, Manoa, and The Missouri Review. He also wrote Mapping the Farm: The Chronicles of a Family (1995) and Reading the River: A Voyage Down the Yukon (1998). His work has been anthologized in Barnstorm: Contemporary Wisconsin Fiction (2005), Best American Sports Writing 1999, American Nature Writing 1997, The Great Land: Reflections on Alaska (1994), and Nature's New Voices (1992). His work has been translated into German and Italian.

Hildebrand received a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Michigan in 1971 and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska in 1974. In 1977 he joined the English Department at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire where he is a professor specializing in nonfiction writing and literature, the short story, and American literature. He received the Maxwell Schoenfeld Distinguished Professorship and the Excellence in Scholarship Award from UWEC. He has also been awarded a Bush Artist Fellowship, a Wisconsin Arts Board Fellowship, the BANTA Award from the Wisconsin Literary Association, and a Friends of American Writers Literary Award.

Fair Isle Books, 1885 Detroit Harbor Road | 2013 Festival, Writing Wisconsin: Facts and Fiction

Bruce Dethlefsen was been appointed as the Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2011 and 2012. He has published two poetry chapbooks, A Decent Reed (Tamafyr Mountain Press,1999) and Something Near the Dance Floor (Marsh River Editions, 2003) for which he
won the Posner Book-length Poetry Award Honorable Mention from the Council for Wisconsin Writers. Breather (Fireweed Press, 2009), his full-length poetry book, received an Outstanding Achievement Award in Poetry from the Wisconsin Library Association. He was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2003 and 2009. His most recent poetry books are Unexpected Shiny Things (Cowfeather Press, 2011) and Small Talk (Little Eagle Press, 2014).

Dethlefsen grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and graduated from Paseo High School in 1966. He completed his undergrad degree in Secondary Education at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and got his master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Bruce credits two writers for his success in poetry, John Judson, an instructor at UW-La Crosse, and David Steingass, who was a visiting artist in schools. Bruce has worked delivering telegrams, as a night watchman in a cave, as a emergency medical technician, as a high school librarian, as a curriculum coordinator, and retired after being director of the Montello (WI) public library. He has taught over a thousand people to juggle.

More off than on, Bruce has been in several bands: The Organic Republic, The Mason-Dixon Line, annaRANaway, and most recently Obvious Dog (the name from Marilyn Taylor's term for a "poem beyond resuscitation"), performing original music with Bill Orth on Cathryn Cofell's spoken-word CD, Lip. Bruce sings, plays bass and percussion.

Bruce served as secretary of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets for six years, co-founded the WFOP Chapbook Prize, and started Poet Camp. For eight years he directed The Poet Tree, a monthly reading by Wisconsin poets at the Montello Public Library. 

Bruce has had many poems published in journals and anthologies. Two of his poems were featured on Garrison Keillor's The
Writer's Almanac on public radio and several poems featured on Your Daily Poem website. 

Thank You!

The Washington Island Literary Committee thanks the following businesses/organizations and individuals for their support of the Writers' Walk:

Businesses / Organizations

  • Washington Island Ferry Line
  • Fair Isle Books
  • Gathering Grounds
  • Trueblood Performing Arts Center
  • Write On, Door County
  • The Estate of Margaret B. Evans


  • Jo Kibbee
  • Helene Meyer
  • Dick Purinton
  • Elizabeth Evans Sachs
  • Jerod Santek
  • Deb Wayman
  • Karen Yancey
  • Amy Jorgenson