MADISON—Susan Elbe, award-winning poet, died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Sept. 25, 2017, at age 71. Her story began in September 1946, when she was born in Chicago, Ill. to Harold and Doris Elbe. She grew up in Chicago and Green Bay, Wis. Her intelligence and curiosity were evident even as a child when she skipped two elementary grades and graduated high school at 16. Susan attended UW-Green Bay and then UW-Madison, where she received her BA degree in English.

She worked for the Poverty Research Institute in Madison until she moved to Denver, Colo. in 1981. There she worked in underwriting and loan management and became an assistant VP for that division in the Western Regional Office of Carnegie Evans L. P. Returning to Madison in 1990, Susan worked briefly for the Wis. Investment Board, until she joined WHEDA (Wis. Housing and Economic Dev. Authority) in 1991. She worked first in the area of Multifamily Housing, and then became a web master for WHEDA until her retirement in 2009.

Her work life was only a part of her story. Susan was a passionate person who loved her family and friends, learning, reading, singing and music, traveling and a good joke. However, her greatest passion and her gift was poetry. She began writing poetry at the age of 10 and devoted herself to becoming a craftsman and supporter of poetry throughout her life. She was the author of two books and two chapbooks of poetry. The books are “Eden in the Rearview Mirror” (Word Press, 2007) and “The Map of What Happened,” which won the 2012 Backwaters Press Book Prize and the Julie Suk award from Jacar Press for the best book published by an independent publisher in 2013. Her two chapbooks were “Light Made from Nothing” (Parallel Press, 2003) and “Where Good Swimmers Drown” (Concrete Wolf Press 2012), which was the winner of the 2011 Concrete Wolf Chapbook prize. In addition, individual poems have appeared in a number of literary journals and anthologies. Among her awards were the CALYX inaugural Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize and the Council for Wis. Writers’ Lorine Niedecker Award. You can learn more about her and find links to her poetry at

In addition to her own writing, Susan supported and promoted poetry wherever she could. She served on the Council for Wis. Writers Board of Directors and on the Wis. Poet Laureate Commission. Locally, she was one of the poet founders of the Bridge Poetry Series in collaboration with the Chazen Museum of Art. She and the other members of the Lake Effect writing group have worked to hone one another’s writing and to encourage collaboration with other artists and writers. If you asked her what she did or who she was, the answer was always, “I am a poet.” To paraphrase her friend Judith, “She managed to make a mark for herself, and have a voice that was uniquely her own. She was a singular woman and I am better for having had her in my life.”

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Susan was preceded in death by her mother in 1954, and her father in 2010. She is survived by her aunt and uncle, Joan and Jim Northrup, Chicago; her step-mother, Lois Elbe, Green Bay; numerous cousins and loving friends.

A Celebration of Life will be held at BLACKHAWK COUNTRY CLUB in Madison at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017.

Please share your memories at

Cress Funeral and Cremation Service

3610 Speedway Road, Madison

(608) 238-3434

the life of: Elbe, Susan
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