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Gary Edward "Garrison" Keillor (born August 7, 1942) is an American author, storyteller, humorist, and radio personality. He is known as host of the Minnesota Public Radio show A Prairie Home Companion (also known as Garrison Keillor's Radio Show on United Kingdom's BBC Radio 4 Extra, as well as on RTÉ in Ireland, Australia's ABC, and Radio New Zealand National in New Zealand).
Keillor was born in Anoka, Minnesota, the son of Grace Ruth (née Denham) and John Philip Keillor, who was a carpenter and postal worker. His father had English ancestry, partly by way of Canada (Keillor's paternal grandfather was from Kingston, Ontario). His maternal grandparents were Scottish immigrants, from Glasgow. The family belonged to the Plymouth Brethren, a fundamentalist Christian denomination Keillor has since left. He is six feet, three inches (1.9 m) tall. Keillor is a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. In 2006 he told Christianity Today that he was attending the Episcopal church in Saint Paul, after previously attending a Lutheran church in New York.
Keillor graduated from Anoka High School in 1960 and from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor's degree in English in 1966. During college, he began his broadcasting career on the student-operated radio station known today as Radio K.
Keillor has been married three times:
To Mary Guntzel, from 1965 to 1976. That union produced one son, Jason, born in 1969.
To Ulla Skaerved (a former exchange student from Denmark at Keillor's high school whom he famously re-encountered at a class reunion), from 1985 to 1990.
To violinist Jenny Lind Nilsson (b. 1957), who is from his hometown of Anoka, since 1995. They have one daughter, Maia Grace Keillor, born December 29, 1997.
Between his first and second marriages, he was also romantically involved with Margaret Moos, who worked as a producer of A Prairie Home Companion.
On September 7, 2009, Keillor was briefly hospitalized after suffering a minor stroke. He returned to work a few days later.
In his book Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America (2004), Keillor mentions some of his noteworthy ancestors, including Joseph Crandall, who was an associate of Roger Williams (who founded the first American Baptist church as well as Rhode Island); and Prudence Crandall, who founded the first African-American women's school in America.
Garrison Keillor started his professional radio career in November 1969 with Minnesota Educational Radio (MER), now Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and distributing programs under the American Public Media (APM) brand. He hosted The Morning Program in the weekday drive time slot of 6 to 9 a.m. on KSJR 90.1 FM at St. John's University in Collegeville, which the station called "A Prairie Home Entertainment." The show's eclectic music was a major divergence from the station's usual classical fare. During this time he also began submitting fiction to The New Yorker, where his first story, "Local Family Keeps Son Happy," appeared on September 19, 1970.
Keillor resigned from The Morning Program in February 1971 to protest what he considered an attempt to interfere with his musical programming (as part of his protest, he played nothing but the Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda" during a show). The show became A Prairie Home Companion when he returned in October.
Keillor has attributed the idea for the live Saturday night radio program to his 1973 assignment to write about the Grand Ole Opry for The New Yorker, but he had already begun showcasing local musicians on the morning show, despite limited studio space for them, and in August 1973 The Minneapolis Tribune reported MER's plans for a Saturday night version of A Prairie Home Companion with live musicians.
A Prairie Home Companion debuted as an old-style variety show before a live audience on July 6, 1974, featuring guest musicians and a cadre cast doing musical numbers and comic skits replete with elaborate live sound effects. The show was punctuated by spoof commercial spots from fictitious sponsors such as Powdermilk Biscuits." The show also contains parodic serial melodramas, such as The Adventures of Guy Noir, Private Eye and The Lives of the Cowboys. Keillor voices Noir and other recurring radio drama characters, and also provides lead or backup vocals for some of the show's musical numbers.
After the show's intermission, Keillor reads clever and often humorous greetings to friends and family at home submitted by members of the theater audience in exchange for an honorarium. Also in the second half of the show, the broadcasts showcase a weekly monologue by Keillor entitled The News from Lake Wobegon. The town is based in part on Keillor's own hometown of Anoka, Minnesota, and in part on Freeport and other towns in Stearns County, where he lived in the early 1970s. Lake Wobegon is a quintessential but fictional Minnesotan small town "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."
A Prairie Home Companion ran until 1987, when Keillor decided to end it to focus on other projects. In 1989, he launched another live radio program from New York City, "The American Radio Company of the Air" — which had almost the same format as A Prairie Home Companion's. In 1992, he moved ARC back to St. Paul, and a year later changed the name back to A Prairie Home Companion; it has remained a Saturday night fixture ever since. On A Prairie Home Companion, Keillor receives no billing or credit (except "written by Sarah Bellum," a joking reference to his own brain); his name is not mentioned unless a guest addresses him by his first name or the initials "G. K.," though some sketches feature Keillor as his alter ego, Carson Wyler.
A Prairie Home Companion regularly goes on the road and is broadcast live from popular venues around the United States, often featuring local celebrities and skits incorporating local color. In April 2000, he took the programme to Edinburgh, Scotland and gave two performances in the city's Queen's Hall. These were broadcast by BBC Radio on April 1 and 8. He also toured Scotland with the program to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
Keillor also sometimes gives broadcast performances of a similar nature that do not carry the "Prairie Home Companion" brand, as in his 2008 appearance at the Oregon Bach Festival.
In a March 2011 interview with the AARP Bulletin, Keillor announced that he would be retiring from A Prairie Home Companion in 2013, but in a December 2011 interview with the Sioux City Journal, Keillor told the interviewer "The show is going well. I love doing it. Why quit?" His publicist later confirmed that "He doesn't have any specific plans to retire. He's still having a lot of fun doing the show."
Keillor is also the host of The Writer's Almanac which, like A Prairie Home Companion, is produced and distributed by American Public Media. The Writer's Almanac is also available online and via daily e-mail installments by subscription.
Keillor has been called "[o]ne of the most perceptive and witty commentators about Midwestern life" by Randall Balmer in Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism. He has written numerous magazine and newspaper articles and more than a dozen books for adults as well as children. In addition to writing for The New Yorker, he has written for The Atlantic Monthly and National Geographic. He has also written for Salon.com and authored an advice column at Salon.com under the name "Mr. Blue." Following a heart operation, he resigned on September 4, 2001, his last column being titled "Every dog has his day":
Illness offers the chance to think long thoughts about the future (praying that we yet have one, dear God), and so I have, and so this is the last column of Mr. Blue, under my authorship, for Salon. Over the years, Mr. Blue's strongest advice has come down on the side of freedom in our personal lives, freedom from crushing obligation and overwork and family expectations and the freedom to walk our own walk and be who we are. And some of the best letters have been addressed to younger readers trapped in jobs like steel suits, advising them to bust loose and go off and have an adventure. Some of the advisees have written back to inform Mr. Blue that the advice was taken and that the adventure changed their lives. This was gratifying. So now I am simply taking my own advice. Cut back on obligations: Promote a certain elegant looseness in life. Simple as that. Winter and spring, I almost capsized from work, and in the summer I had a week in St. Mary's Hospital to sit and think, and that's the result. Every dog has his day and I've had mine and given whatever advice was mine to give (and a little more). It was exhilarating to get the chance to be useful, which is always an issue for a writer (What good does fiction do?), and Mr. Blue was a way to be useful. Nothing human is beneath a writer's attention; the basic questions about how to attract a lover and what to do with one once you get one and how to deal with disappointment in marriage are the stuff that fiction is made from, so why not try to speak directly? And so I did. And now it's time to move on.
In 2004 Keillor published a collection of political essays, Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America, and in June 2005 he began a column called "The Old Scout", which ran at Salon.com and in syndicated newspapers. The column went on hiatus in April 2010 "so that he [could] finish a screenplay and start writing a novel".
Keillor wrote the screenplay for the 2006 movie A Prairie Home Companion, directed by Robert Altman. (Keillor also appears in the movie.)
On November 1, 2006, Keillor opened an independent bookstore, "Common Good Books, G. Keillor, Prop." in the Blair Arcade Building at the southwest corner of Selby and N. Western Avenues in the Cathedral Hill area in the Summit-University neighborhood of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Upon opening the bookstore, Keillor wrote this sonnet:
In April 2012, the store moved to a new location across Snelling Ave from Macalester College in the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood.
Probably owing in part to his distinctive North Central accent, Keillor is often used as a voiceover actor. Some notable appearances include:
Voiceover artist for Honda UK's "the Power of Dreams" campaign. The campaign's most memorable advertisement is the 2003 Honda Accord commercial Cog, which features a Heath Robinson contraption (or Rube Goldberg Machine) made entirely of car parts. The commercial ends with Keillor asking, "Isn't it nice when things just work?" Since then, Keillor has voiced the tagline for most if not all UK Honda advertisements, and even sang the voiceover in the 2004 Honda Diesel commercial "Grrr". His most recent ad was a reworking of an existing commercial with digitally added England flags to tie in with the World Cup. Keillor's tagline was "Come on, England, keep the dream alive."
Voice of the Norse god Odin in an episode of the Disney animated series Hercules.
Voice of Walt Whitman and other historical figures in Ken Burns's documentary series The Civil War and Baseball.
In 2005, Keillor's attorneys sent a cease-and-desist letter to MNSpeak.com regarding their production of a T-shirt bearing the inscription "A Prairie Ho Companion."
In 2006, after a visit to a United Methodist Church in Highland Park, Texas, Keillor created a local controversy with his remarks about the event, including the rhetorical suggestion of a connection between event participants and supporters of torture and a statement creating an impression of political intimidation: "I walked in, was met by two burly security men ... and within 10 minutes was told by three people that this was the Bushes' church and that it would be better if I didn't talk about politics." The security detail is purportedly routine for the venue, and according to participants, Keillor did not interact with any audience members between his arrival and his lecture. Supposedly, before Keillor's remarks, participants in the event had considered the visit to have been cordial and warm.
In 2007, Keillor wrote a column that in part criticized "stereotypical" gay parents, who he said were "sardonic fellows with fussy hair who live in over-decorated apartments with a striped sofa and a small weird dog and who worship campy performers." In response to the strong reactions of many readers, Keillor said
I live in a small world – the world of entertainment, musicians, writers – in which gayness is as common as having brown eyes.... And in that small world, we talk openly and we kid each other a lot. But in the larger world, gayness is controversial ... and so gay people feel besieged to some degree and rightly so.... My column spoke as we would speak in my small world, and it was read by people in the larger world and thus the misunderstanding. And for that, I am sorry. Gay people who set out to be parents can be just as good parents as anybody else, and they know that, and so do I.
In 2008, Keillor created a controversy in St. Paul when he filed a lawsuit against his neighbors' plans to build an addition on their home, citing his need for "light and air" and a view of "open space and beyond". Keillor's home is significantly larger than others in his neighborhood and would still be significantly larger than his neighbors' with its planned addition. Keillor came to an undisclosed settlement with his neighbors shortly after the story became public.
In popular culture
Keillor's style, particularly his speaking voice, is often the subject of parody. The Simpsons parodied him in an episode in which the family is shown watching a Keillor-like monologist on television; they are perplexed at why the studio audience is laughing so much, prompting Homer to ask "What the hell's so funny?" and Bart to suggest "Maybe it's the TV." Homer then hits the set, exclaiming: "Stupid TV! Be more funny!"Harry Shearer, who portrayed the Keillor sound-alike, has also parodied Keillor on Shearer's own public radio series, Le Show.
One Boston radio critic likens Keillor and his "down-comforter voice" to "a hypnotist intoning, 'You are getting sleepy now'," while noting that Keillor does play to listeners' intelligence. Keillor rarely reads his monologue from a script.
In the bonus DVD material for the album Venue Songs by band They Might Be Giants, John Hodgman delivers a fictitious newscast in which he explains that "The Artist Formerly Known as Public Radio Host Garrison Keillor" and his "legacy of Midwestern pledge-drive funk" inspired the band's first "venue song."
Pennsylvanian singer-songwriter Tom Flannery wrote a song in 2003 entitled "I Want a Job Like Garrison Keillor's."
On the November 19, 2011, episode of Saturday Night Live, cast member Bill Hader impersonated Keillor in a sketch depicting celebrities auditioning to replace Regis Philbin as co-host of Live! with Kelly.
Keillor is referenced in Garry Trudeau's comic strip Doonesbury, when his radio show aggravates Governor Jesse Ventura, to the point where Uncle Duke, working on Ventura's staff, takes one of Ventura's rants as an indirect order to assassinate Keillor.
Awards and other recognition
"A Prairie Home Companion" received a Peabody Award in 1980.
Keillor received a Medal for Spoken Language from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1990.
In 1994, Keillor was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
He received a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1999.
"Welcome to Minnesota" markers in interstate rest areas near the state's borders include statements such as "Like its neighbors, the thirty-second state grew as a collection of small farm communities, many settled by immigrants from Scandinavia and Germany. Two of the nation's favorite fictional small towns – Sinclair Lewis's Gopher Prairie and Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon – reflect that heritage."
In 2007, The Moth, a NYC-based not-for-profit storytelling organization, awarded Garrison Keillor the first The Moth Award – Honoring the Art of the Raconteur at the annual Moth Ball.
In September 2007, Keillor was awarded the 2007 John Steinbeck Award, given to artists who capture "the spirit of Steinbeck's empathy, commitment to democratic values, and belief in the dignity of the common man."
Keillor received a Grammy Award in 1988 for his recording of Lake Wobegon Days.
He has also received two CableACE Awards and a George Foster Peabody Award.
Keillor's work in print includes:
Lake Wobegon Days (1985), ISBN 0-14-013161-2; a recorded version of this won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word or Non-musical Album in 1988
Leaving Home (1987; collection of Lake Wobegon stories), ISBN 0-670-81976-X
We Are Still Married (1989; collection including some Lake Wobegon stories), ISBN 0-670-82647-2
Wobegon Boy (1997), ISBN 0-670-87807-3
Lake Wobegon Summer 1956 (2001), ISBN 0-571-21014-7
In Search of Lake Wobegon (Photographs by Richard Olsenius, 2001), ISBN 0-670-03057-8
Pontoon: A Novel of Lake Wobegon (2007), ISBN 0-670-06356-8
Liberty: A Novel of Lake Wobegon (2008), ISBN 0-670-01991-7
Life among the Lutherans (2009), ISBN 978-0-8066-7061-4
Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance (2009), ISBN 978-0-670-02109-3
Happy to Be Here (1981), ISBN 0-06-811201-7
WLT: A Radio Romance, (1991), ISBN 0-670-81857-7
A Visit to Mark Twain's House audio (1992), ISBN 0-942110-82-X
The Book of Guys (1993), ISBN 0-670-84943-X
The Sandy Bottom Orchestra (with Jenny Lind Nilsson, 1996), ISBN 0-7868-1250-8
Me, by Jimmy "Big Boy" Valente (1999), ISBN 0-670-88796-X
Love Me (2003), ISBN 0-670-03246-8
Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America (2004), ISBN 0-670-03365-0
Daddy's Girl (2005), ISBN 978-1-4231-0514-5
A Christmas Blizzard (2009), ISBN 978-0-670-02136-9
Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny (2012), ISBN 0-143-12081-6
77 Love Sonnets (2009), ISBN 0-14-311527-8
O, What a Luxury (2013)
Good Poems (2002), ISBN 0-670-03126-7
Good Poems for Hard Times (2005), ISBN 0-670-03436-3
Good Poems, American Places (2011), ISBN 0-670-02254-3
Contributions to The New Yorker
Garrison Keillor at the Internet Movie Database
A Prairie Home Companion radio website Garrison Keillor's public radio show
A Prairie Home Companion movie website The movie written by Garrison Keillor and directed by Robert Altman
Minnesota Zen Master – a detailed profile of Garrison Keillor, published in The Guardian, March 6, 2004.
Kingdom of the Frown – A feature article from The Reykjavík Grapevine on Garrison Keillor
At Home With Garrison Keillor: Where All the Rooms Are Above Average New York Times June 1, 2006
A Prairie Home Conundrum Slate June 16, 2006
Garrison Keillor Charlie Rose interviews
An interview with Garrison Keillor (www.everydayyeah.com)
Garrison Keillor – The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes PBS American Masters
Speech by Keillor at Concordia University February 15, 2011
Bill Hader mimics Garrison Keillor on SNL
Works by or about Garrison Keillor in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
Paris Review 1995 interview