ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"The Viking from Brooklyn",  a tribute to Stan Johannesen.

We report with sadness that Stan Johannesen has died, this past January 8, at his home in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; we were so informed by his wife, Penny Winspur.  He was born in 1939 in Brooklyn, New York City, from an American mother and a Norwegian father; at age thirty he emigrated to Canada and taught at the History Department of the University of Waterloo until his retirement in 2004.

 His reminiscing piece "Old Photos" appeared in issue #7 of offcourse (Summer 2000); it had to do with his father's past as a Nordic sailor and the mysteries involving a buddy of his father, called Arthur.  It struck in me the sensitive chord of dark paternal secrets.  Soon after, Stan and Penny went on a visit to Hyde Park, down the Hudson (I think they wanted to see FDR's house) and on the return trip they stopped overnight with Isabel and me in Albany.  That was the beginning of our friendship.

Three years later Stan's first novel, Sister Patsy, was published by Pasdeloup Press in Ontario.  Stan's childhood experience with revivalist faith movements in Brooklyn was there put to good use.  At that time the section of Brooklyn called Sunset Park, where Stan lived, was mostly populated by Norwegian immigrants.  Next, "Brückenkopfstrasse," a story set in late-fifties Heidelberg, Germany, appeared in offcourse issue #22 (Winter 2005).  It was likely inspired by Stan's military service in post-war Germany.

In 2007 Stan and Penny joined forces with Christian Snyder and founded a small press in Kitchener, Ontario.  The first two books they published were Stan's second novel, Lugas Wood, Blaurock Press, 2007, and my second novel, Wave Mechanics, A Love Story.  Stan insisted that Blaurock, named after a Swiss Anabaptist martyr, was the right home for my work, and after several fruitless and disheartening attempts at finding a larger and commercially successful home, I was easily persuaded.  Stan's third novel, The Yellow Room, was also published by Blaurock Press in 2009, and reviewed by me in offcourse issue #41.  As far as I know, Blaurock Press has not been active after 2012; the problem with most of those small-press ventures is that they neither advertise or promote their books nor distribute them, as many of our contributors know only too well.

Meanwhile, Stan's story "The Element of Desire" appeared in offcourse issue #34 (Summer 2008, our Tenth Anniversary Issue), and "How to Find Honey in the Desert," whose characters are Mexicans roving on both sides of our presently tortured southern boundary, in issue #38 (Summer 2009).  Finally, "The Walk" appeared in issue #50 (September 2012): it is part of a book of stories, The Wulfenite Affair and Other Stories, published by The Electric Ferry Press, the small press founded by Stan and Penny after they parted company with Blaurock.  The name, The Electric Ferry, was taken – as the website announced – "from the stubby, graceless, green ferries that once plied the Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island."

The last time we saw Penny and Stan was in 2009.  They had come from Ontario in their yellow Volkswagen, and stopped with us in upstate New York.  I remember particularly my long walks with Stan, talking of this and that, of earth worms and of the upper world.  I will only say, in Dantesque fashion:

         Of things we talked it's pleasant to be mum
         As it was sweet to talk back there in Hamilton.

Ricardo L. Nirenberg


His family's tribute:

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