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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Anja "Notanja" wants to write letters for you.

Word busker provides letter-writing service


Milwaukee artist and writer Anja Sieger grew up in Franklin – "with the Oak Creek running along the edge of our yard" – and went on to attend high school in Milwaukee and the Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Mo.

"At the end of five years and a flea battle there I moved back to Milwaukee for nostalgia and health reasons," says Sieger. "The air in Kansas City is so stagnant without a Great Lake."

Sieger, a visual artist who creates hand-cut abstract paper cuttings and shadow puppet shows among other things, started getting into the literary world after graduation.

Currently, she organizes a twice-a-month writers' critique group at the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network and starting this spring, she will co-edit a new zine publication called "The Monthly Manifesto" with Milwaukee creative Jessica Poor.

Sieger is also a word busker, meaning she sets up a temporary "office" at a craft fair, festival, conference or party and writes on-the-spot poetry, love letters, letters of recommendation, flash fiction and other literary requests from her typewriter.

"The recipient of the work determines its subject and monetary value," she says. "Most people price this service at $5, but people with a real love of culture tend to price this service at $20."

Each letter is written within 3-10 minutes time. Sieger charges $150 to set up at a specific event / party or $100 if she can put out a tip jar.

"Young women especially enjoy buying my love letters, so I could see this as something I could do at wedding receptions, anniversaries or Valentines gatherings," she says.

At one event, a woman asked her to write a love letter to her boyfriend and she cried from joy when she read it.

"I was thrilled to incur such a reaction," she says. "Three days later I got an email from her boyfriend, asking me to write her a love letter back. An odd request, but I did it."

Sieger says the exchange made her feel like Florentino Ariza from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's book "Love in the Time of Cholera," who ended up getting two people to fall in love with each other by writing their love letters for them.

"A week after I wrote the letter, I got paid for it with a wad of $2 bills," she says.

Sieger also writes a lot of appreciative letters for people's family members and friends.

"I always come in a different costume and will work with organizers to match an event's theme."

Sieger will "weave together shadow puppets and dancers delving into the humaan psyche" in a collabotaive show called "LightShadow" on April 6-7 at DanceCircus, 527. N. 27th St.

On Friday, May 24, Sieger will "channel live radiowaves" from the Bay View Urban Artisans, 2543 S. Howell Ave. with an antennae made of her own hair. She will type the incoming "radio waves" on her typewriter and hand out the responses to attendees.

"Come and receive a little bit of what the universe is trying to tell you," she says.

Sieger says her return to Milwaukee as an artist has had its ups and downs. She understands that working in the arts is an irregular vocation anywhere, and appreciates that Milwaukeeans take pride in what makes us unique.

The biggest challenge for her has been learning how to run a business.

"Sometimes I wish we in the creative industry had more grants, prevalent arts appreciation education for adults and children and subways built to busker in, not to mention better public transit," she says. "But I also see a lot of successful artists and writers here. We are strengthening the career resources for creatives in this city. I've learned a lot from the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network."

Although her first name is legally "Anja," she often goes by "Notanja."

"'Notanja' is the spirit that makes everything I do. It is important to forget my own reality a bit when I write other people's letters and Notanja always knows exactly what needs to be written," she says.


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