Keillor, Garrison 1942- (Gary Edward Keillor)
Keillor, Garrison 1942- (Gary Edward Keillor)
Born Gary Edward Keillor, August 7, 1942, in Anoka, MN; son of John Philip (a railway mail clerk and carpenter) and Grace Ruth (a homemaker) Keillor; married Mary C. Guntzel, September 1, 1965 (divorced, May 1976); married Ulla Skaerved (a social worker), December 29, 1985 (divorced); married Jenny Lind Nilsson; children: (first marriage) Jason, (third marriage) Maia. Education: University of Minnesota, B.A., 1966, graduate study, 1966-68. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Plymouth Brethren.
KUOM-Radio, Minneapolis, MN, staff announcer, 1963-68; Minnesota Public Radio, St. Paul, MN, producer and announcer, 1971-74, host and principal writer for weekly program A Prairie Home Companion, 1974-87 and 1993—; host of Garrison Keillor's American Radio Company of the Air, 1989-93; host of Writer's Almanac, 1995—. Owner of Common Good Books (independent bookstore), St. Paul, beginning 2006. Actor in film A Prairie Home Companion, 2005. Television appearances include (as host) A Prairie Home Companion: The Second Annual Farewell Performance, 1988; (as narrator) The Dakota Conflict, 1993; (as narrator) Redux Riding Hood, 1997; (as voice of Odin) Hercules, 1998; (as voice) Afraid So, 2006, and (as host) Garrison Keillor's Independence Day Special: A Prairie Home Companion at Tanglewood, 2006. Narrator on recordings; guest on numerous television programs.
American Academy of Letters.
George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Award, 1980, for A Prairie Home Companion; Edward R. Murrow Award, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, 1985, for service to public radio; Grammy Award for best nonmusical recording, 1987, for Lake Wobegon Days; Ace Award, 1988; Best Music and Entertainment Host Award, 1988; Gold Medal for spoken English, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1990; inducted into Museum of Broadcast Communications and Radio Hall of Fame, 1994; National Humanities Medal, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1999; Berliner Morgenpost Readers' Prize, Berlin Film Festival, for A Prairie Home Companion.
G.K. the DJ, Minnesota Public Radio (St. Paul, MN), 1977.
The Selected Verse of Margaret Haskins Durber, Minnesota Public Radio (St. Paul, MN), 1979.
Happy to Be Here: Stories and Comic Pieces, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1982, expanded edition, Penguin (New York, NY), 1983.
Lake Wobegon Days (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1985.
Leaving Home: A Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.
We Are Still Married: Stories and Letters, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
WLT: A Radio Romance, Viking (New York, NY), 1991.
The Book of Guys, Viking (New York, NY), 1993.
Cat, You Better Come Home (for children), illustrated by Steve Johnson, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
The Old Man Who Loved Cheese (for children), illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.
(With wife, Jenny Lind Nilsson) The Sandy Bottom Orchestra (young-adult novel), Hyperion (New York, NY), 1996.
Wobegon Boy (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1997.
(Editor, with Katrina Kenison) The Best American Short Stories: 1998, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.
Me: By Jimmy (Big Boy) Valente, Governor of Minnesota, as Told to Garrison Keillor, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.
In Search of Lake Wobegon, photographs by Richard Olsenius, Viking (New York, NY), 2001.
Lake Wobegon Summer 1956 (young-adult novel), Viking (New York, NY), 2001.
(Selector) Good Poems (anthology), Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
Mr. and Mrs. Olson (opera), produced in St. Paul, MN, 2002.
Love Me, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America, Viking (New York, NY), 2004, updated edition, 2006.
A Prairie Home Companion (screenplay; produced 2005), Penguin (New York, NY), 2006.
Daddy's Girl (song lyrics; with CD sung by Keillor), illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2005.
(Selector) Good Poems for Hard Times, Viking (New York, NY), 2005.
Pontoon (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to books, including Minnesota Days: Our Heritage in Stories, Art, and Photos, edited by Michael Dregni, Voyageur (Stillwater, MN), 1999. Contributor of articles and stories to periodicals, including New Yorker, Harper's, and Atlantic Monthly.
A Prairie Home Companion Anniversary Album, Minnesota Public Radio, 1980.
The Family Radio, Minnesota Public Radio, 1982.
News from Lake Wobegon, Minnesota Public Radio, 1982.
Prairie Home Companion Tourists, Minnesota Public Radio, 1983.
Ten Years on the Prairie: A Prairie Home Companion 10th Anniversary, Minnesota Public Radio, 1984.
Gospel Birds, and Other Stories of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota Public Radio, 1985.
A Prairie Home Companion: The Final Performance, Minnesota Public Radio, 1987.
More News from Lake Wobegon, Minnesota Public Radio, 1988.
Lake Wobegon Loyalty Days: A Recital for Mixed Baritone and Orchestra, Minnesota Public Radio, 1989.
Local Man Moves to City, HighBridge Audio, 1991.
(With Frederica von Stade) Songs of the Cat, HighBridge Audio, 1991.
Garrison Keilor's Comedy Theatre: More Songs and Sketches from A Prairie Home Companion, HighBridge Audio, 1997.
A Prairie Home Companion Pretty Good Joke Tape, HighBridge Audio, 2000.
Definitely above Average, HighBridge Audio, 2001.
A Life in Comedy: An Evening of Favorites from a Writer's Life, HighBridge Audio, 2003.
Keillor has also recorded audiobook versions of several of his books, including Lake Wobegon Days and Homegrown Democrat. The Sandy Bottom Orchestra was adapted for television, 2000.
With the words "It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my hometown," radio humorist and writer Garrison Keillor began the monologues beloved by fans of his long-running Minnesota Public Radio program, A Prairie Home Companion. The stories Keillor spun over the air, based partly on his memories of growing up in semi-rural Anoka, Minnesota, stand as the highlights of the live-broadcast show—an eclectic mixture of comedy and music (including bluegrass, blues, ethnic folk, choral, gospel, opera, and yodeling)—which reached an audience of about four million listeners per week by the mid-1980s. A Contemporary Popular Writers essayist noted: "By reviving in the 1980s and 1990s the pre-television tradition of gathering around the radio to listen to variety shows, comedies, and dramas," Keillor "answered the public's need for old-fashioned, wholesome, family-style entertainment, as well as for nostalgia for a simpler time and a less complicated lifestyle." In addition to his work for radio, Keillor has written numerous books, including fiction for both adults and children, has edited several collections of poetry, and has penned an opera and a screenplay based on his radio experiences. Directed by Robert Altman and starring Keillor, Meryl Streep, and Lindsay Lohan, the film A Prairie Home Companion was released in 2005.
As principal writer and host of A Prairie Home Companion, Keillor displayed his keen humor to radio audiences, not only in his monologue but also in the commercials he wrote for the sponsors of his program, including the Chatterbox Cafe ("Where the coffeepot is always on, which is why it always tastes that way"), the Sidetrack Tap ("Don't sleep at our bar; we don't drink in your bed"), and Powdermilk Biscuits ("Heavens, they're tasty"), which, according to host Keillor, "give shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done." Although Keillor left A Prairie Home Com-panion in June of 1987 to devote more time to his writing, he resumed the series in 1993. In the interim, he hosted and wrote for a second radio program, Garrison Keillor's American Radio Company of the Air, and he has supplemented his work on the revived A Prairie Home Companion with similar duties on a third radio show, Writer's Almanac.
Many critics place Keillor in the same tradition as American-grown humorists Ring Lardner, James Thurber, and Mark Twain. Like Twain, who built his renown traveling on the American lecture circuit beginning in the late 1800s, Keillor built his original fan base through live performances, and his writing. According to New York Times Book Review contributor Roy Blount, Jr., discussing the phenomenon of A Prairie Home Companion, it was "impossible to describe. Everyone I have met who has heard it has either been dumbfounded by it, or addicted to it, or both." "The same is true of Keillor's prose," Blount continued, referring to a series of sketches written for the New Yorker and collected in Happy to Be Here: Stories and Comic Pieces. As Peter A. Scholl noted in the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1987 of Keillor's shift from raconteur to writer, his written works tend to "show the witty and urbane Keillor rather than the wistful, wandering storyteller in exile from Lake Wobegon, where ‘smart doesn't count for very much.’"
In addition to Happy to Be Here, Keillor has collected other shorter works in We Are Still Married: Stories and Letters, The Book of Guys, and Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America, the last described by a Publishers Weekly critic as a "heartwarming case for liberalism" that, because of Keillor's penchant for "Menckenesque rant," can best be described as "Prairie Home Companion meets [liberal radio network] Air America." A comic parody of the work of Minnesota poet Robert Bly, whose bestselling works highlighted male bonding in the wilderness, The Book of Guys tracks the struggles with manhood experienced by such diverse protagonists as Dionysius and Buddy the Leper. Roy Bradley, Boy Broadcaster, for example, hails from the tongue-twisting village of Piscacatawamaquoddymoggin, and his tale is as much one of a broken heart as of his radio vocation. Lonesome Shorty, a cowboy who takes to collecting china, ends up in conflict over how his hobby has disturbed his previously conventional life. "Keillor puts on the mantle of guyness, with its repeating pattern of male bonding and rugged manly embraces, and camps around in it," commented Susan Jeffreys, reviewing the book for the New Statesman. Reviewing The Book of Guys in the New York Times Book Review, Lisa Zeidner dubbed it "an endearingly acerbic collection" but added that "the most substantial tales aren't really about manhood at all, but about the arbitrariness and absurdity of modern success, especially in show business." "He drags his heroes through the mud of contemporary culture," Zeidner added, "and teaches them the essential tongue-in-cheek Lake Wobegon lesson … ‘not to imagine we are someone but to be content being who we are.’"
In Keillor's first novel, Lake Wobegon Days, his fictional small town gained national prominence. Beginning with the first explorations of the French traders in the eighteenth century, Keillor goes on to describe the town's history up to the present day. As Mary T. Schmich explained to the uninitiated in the Chicago Tribune, Lake Wobegon is "a town that lies not on any map but somewhere along the border of [Keillor's] … imagination and his memory." An American Everytown, it is "the ideal American place to come from," wrote Scholl in his review of Lake Wobegon Days. "One of the attributes of home in Keillor's work is evanescence…. Dozens of his stories concern flight from Lake Wobegon, and the title of his radio show gains ironic force with the realization that it was adapted from the Prairie Home Lutheran cemetery in Moorhead, Minnesota; we are permanently at home only when we are gone." Yet "the wonderful thing about Keillor's tone in detailing life as it is lived in Lake Wobegon is not derived from his pathos knowing he can never go home again," Scholl continued. In his story, the narrator "refuses to emphasize his status as exile. The wonder flows from his understanding that the complicated person he has become … is truly no step up from the guy down in the Sidetrack Tap he might have been had he never left home in the first place."
Keillor made a second foray into long fiction with WLT: A Radio Romance, which finds brothers Ray and Roy Soderbjerg starting a radio station in 1926, during the glory days of radio. The novel chronicles decades of the station's rise until television becomes the draw of the day. Ray, a lecher, chases after any female who comes within his realm, while Roy craves the quiet rural life; together they bumble through their new enterprise, booking acts small and smaller as they explore the frontier of radio broadcasting. Acts such as the Shepherd Boys (a gospel group), Lily Dale (a wheelchair-bound woman with a seductive voice), and the Shoe Shine Boys (a folk group) compete with radio melodramas like Adventures in Homemaking and Noontime Jubilee. Adopted boy broadcaster Francis With, whose parents have either died or gone mad, is molded into the ubiquitous announcer Frank White and becomes the station's top draw.
Anne Bernays, reviewing WLT for the New York Times Book Review, described the novel as "a much darker book than one would expect." "I ended up wishing Mr. Keillor had let me laugh more," she added; "he still has the humorist's singular and worthy touch." Commonweal reviewer Elizabeth Beverly found the chapters short and choppy, a fact that "seriously hinder[s] his ability to tell a story from the inside. There's not enough room to move, not enough time to fill in background information." While Michael Ratcliffe remarked in the London Observer that WLT is "very funny," he found fault with its structure, claiming that it is "not really a novel at all. Keillor is an intensive miniaturist, but he is driving a stretched limo here." WLT, according to Ratcliffe, "is like a brilliant bedding plant: it flowers as floribundantly as promised in the photograph, but puts down no roots to grow."
Wobegon Boy, the third of Keillor's "Lake Wobegon" novels, follows John Tollefson as he leaves Lake Wobegon and takes a job at a radio station at a college in upstate New York. John's life is complicated as he enters into a partnership to open a restaurant, falls in love and gets married, experiences the death of his father, and is forced to resign from the station before finally pulling himself together. Julian Ferraro, reviewing the novel for the Times Literary Supplement, found that "Keillor is … at his best as an energetic storyteller, and it is the various comic interludes—the ‘dozens of stories of shame and degradation’—that provide the book's most entertaining moments." Referring to Keillor's earlier novel, Lake Wobegon Days, as "part novel, part supercasual" hybrid, Alex Heard commented in the New York Times Book Review that "this time the hybrid, while often sharp and funny, doesn't work as well … mainly because Keillor is trying to make Tollefson … a three-dimensional character—as opposed to the 2-D vehicles for comic experiences and observations that populate Lake Wobegon." Washington Post Book World critic Michael Kernan concluded his review of Wobegon Boy with the view that Keillor "appears to ramble on for pages about this and that, entertaining us but not moving us, and then suddenly, at the very end, he pulls everything together and gives meaning and brightness to all that has gone before."
Dubbed a "wry send-up of literary live" by a Publishers Weekly reviewer, Keillor's semi-autobiographical novel Love Me finds small-town scribbler Larry Wyler fleeing St. Paul and his loyal wife Iris for New York City, where he hopes to become a famous writer. For a time he seems successful both at writing and womanizing, and he finds himself at the New Yorker. His success falls, however, with an unpopular second novel, and Wyler is soon brought low with the offer of a job as an advice columnist, giving out words of comfort under the pseudonym Mr. Blue. Noting that the novel "fails to come together in an easy, connective flow," Sheila Riley noted in her Library Review appraisal that because Keillor's strong suit is "the short format … the advice column technique affords him smaller settings for his gems." Calling the author "a natural storyteller," Booklist reviewer Mary Frances Wilkens wrote that in Love Me, Keillor mixes his characteristic "humor and compassion with just a touch of cynicism, cooking up a funny, insightful, and touching story of ambition, sacrifice, and love."
In addition to writing for adults, Keillor has turned his focus to a younger readership with picture books as well as young-adult novels such as Lake Wobegon Summer 1956 and The Sandy Bottom Orchestra, the last a collaboration between Keillor and third wife, Jenny Lind Nilsson. Tied to his "Lake Wobegon" novels, Lake Wobegon Summer 1956 follows fourteen-year-old Gary's efforts to come to terms with his life in rural Minnesota. While he finds himself tangled up in sexual yearnings and questioning his family's religious beliefs, the teen also comes into his own through his job as the local newspaper's sportswriter. Comparing the novel to J.D. Salinger's classic coming-of-age tale, Jonathan Mirsky noted in the Spectator that "there is a good deal of Catcher in the Rye" in Keillor's story of "the lonely teenager who sees everything with an x-ray and dyspeptic eye." However, Mirsky continued, Keillor's work "is less soft-centred and, to use Holden Caulfield's favourite word, less ‘phony’ than Salinger's too-admired book." Don McLeese, reviewing Lake Wobegon Summer 1956 for Book, wrote that the author's "eye for evocative detail and penchant for parody give the novel the breezy charm of a summer reverie," and Caroline Hallsworth wrote in Library Journal that "Keillor's wry vignettes of Gary's summer of change and turmoil are laced with his trademark self-deprecating humor."
In Cat, You Better Come Home Keillor fictionalizes the life of a feline who wants more than she gets in her own house, so she runs away to a life of show business, only to return broken down to the man who loves her. The Old Man Who Loved Cheese features Wallace P. Flynn, a man whose love for the dairy product causes him to lose his wife and his family. However, after he realizes that the joys of human companionship are much more satisfying than his favorite food, he gives it up and his life is restored. Another picture-book effort, Daddy's Girl, pairs four "wistful and warm" father-friendly songs with illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser, creating what a Publishers Weekly contributor predicted would be a "Father's Day favorite."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 40, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
Contemporary Popular Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1987, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.
Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Volume 22, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.
Lee, Judith Yaross, Garrison Keillor: A Voice of America, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1991.
Book, September, 2001, Don McLeese, reviews of Lake Wobegon Summer 1956 and In Search of Lake Wobegon, p. 80.
Booklist, June 1, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of The Old Man Who Loved Cheese, p. 1732; January 1, 1997, Linda Perkins, review of The Sandy Bottom Orchestra, p. 860; October 1, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of Wobegon Boy, p. 276; July, 2001, Kathleen Hughes, review of Lake Wobegon Summer 1956, p. 1951; August, 2002, Ray Olson, review of Good Poems, p. 1882; August, 2003, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Love Me, p. 1926; July, 2004, Ray Olson, review of Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America, p. 1795; July, 2005, Ray Olson, review of Good Poems for Hard Times, p. 1874.
Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1987, Mary T. Schmich, review of Lake Wobegon Days.
Children's Book Review Service, July, 1996, review of The Old Man Who Loved Cheese, p. 147.
Commonweal, April 10, 1992, Elizabeth Beverly, review of WLT: A Radio Romance, p. 26.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1996, review of The Old Man Who Loved Cheese, p. 532.
Library Journal, December, 1997, David Bartholomew, review of Wobegon Boy, p. 153; September 1, 2001, Caroline Hallsworth, review of Lake Wobegon Summer 1956, p. 234; September 15, 2003, Sheila Riley, review of Love Me, p. 92; August, 2004, review of Homegrown Democrat, p. 100.
National Review, December 8, 1997, E.V. Kontorovich, review of Wobegon Boy, p. 51.
New Statesman, January 14, 1994, Susan Jeffreys, review of The Book of Guys, p. 40; May 22, 1998, James Urquhart, review of Wobegon Boy, p. 57.
New York Times, October 21, 1987, Richard F. Shepard, review of Leaving Home: A Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories.
New York Times Book Review, November 10, 1991, Anne Bernays, review of WLT, p. 24; December 12, 1993, Roy Blount, Jr., review of Happy to Be Here: Stories and Comic Pieces, p. 13; May 21, 1995, Lisa Zeidner, review of The Book of Guys, p. 20; October 26, 1997, Alex Heard, review of Wobegon Boy, p. 14; November 6, 2003, Larry McMurtry, review of Love Me, p. 60.
Observer (London, England), January 19, 1992, Michael Ratcliffe, review of WLT, p. 53.
Publishers Weekly, April 1, 1996, review of The Old Man Who Loved Cheese, p. 74; December 2, 1996, review of The Sandy Bottom Orchestra, p. 61; July 28, 1997, review of Cat, You Better Come Home, p. 77; September 29, 1997, review of Wobegon Boy, p. 66; July 23, 2001, review of Lake Wobegon Summer 1956, p. 50; July 28, 2003, review of Love Me, p. 78; June 1, 2004, review of Homegrown Democrat, p. 57; February 21, 2005, review of Daddy's Girl, p. 173.
School Library Journal, July, 1995, Barbara Peklo Abrahams, review of Cat, You Better Come Home, p. 78; May, 1996, Pam Gosner, review of The OldMan Who Loved Cheese, p. 93; March, 2003, Sheila Shoup, review of Good Poems, p. 261; April, 2005, Linda L. Walkins, review of Daddy's Girl, p. 105.
Spectator, November 24, 2001, Jonathan Mirsky, review of Lake Wobegon Summer 1956, p. 54.
Time, December 11, 1995, review of Cat, You Better Come Home, p. 77.
Times Literary Supplement, February 27, 1998, Julian Ferrano, review of Wobegon Boy, p. 21.
Utne Reader, September-October, 2001, Karen Olson, "The News … as Seen from Lake Wobegon," p. 92.
Washington Post Book World, November 30, 1997, Michael Kernan, review of Wobegon Boy, p. 1; July 18, 2004, Ted Van Dyk, review of Homegrown Democrat, p. 3.
Prairie Home Companion Web site,http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/ (February 29, 2008).