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Garrison Keillor

Gary Edward "Garrison" Keillor (born August 7, 1942) is an American author, storyteller, humorist, columnist, musician, satirist, 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 Britain's BBC 7, as well as on Australia's ABC and in Ireland).

Biography and personal life

Keillor was born in Anoka, Minnesota, the son of Grace Ruth (née Denham) and John Philip Keillor, who was a carpenter and postal worker. He was raised in a family belonging to the Plymouth Brethren, a fundamentalist Christian denomination he has since left. He is six feet, three inches (1.9 m) tall and is of part Scottish ancestry. Keillor is a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. He is currently an Episcopalian, but has been a Lutheran. His religious roots are frequently worked into his material: he often remarks that most Minnesotans, being of Scandinavian descent, are Lutherans. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor's degree in English in 1966. While there, 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. The couple has one son, Jason, born in 1969.
  • To Ulla Skaerved (a former exchange student from Denmark at Keillor's high school whom he famously reencountered at a class reunion), from 1985 to 1990.
  • To violinist Jenny Lind Nilsson (b. 1958), who is from his hometown of Anoka, since 1995. They have one daughter, Maia, born in 1997.

Between his first two marriages he was also romantically involved with Margaret Moos, who worked as a producer of A Prairie Home Companion.

The Keillors maintain homes on the Upper West Side of New York City and in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

His brother, the historian Steven Keillor, is also an author.

On Feb. 3, 2008, Keillor endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic Primary. In a letter to the Obama campaign, Keillor stated "I'm happy to support your candidacy, which is so full of promise for our country.

Ancestors

Keillor has many noteworthy ancestors, including Joseph Crandall, who made progress in the studies of Native American languages and was also 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).

Career

Radio

Garrison Keillor started his 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, 6 am to 9 am, which the station called "A Prairie Home Entertainment." During this time he also began submitting fiction to The New Yorker, where his first story, "Local Family Keeps Son Happy," appeared 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. 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, while flying an autogyro 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 such fictitious sponsors as Jack's Auto Repair and Powdermilk Biscuits, "the biscuits that give shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done." Later imaginary sponsors have included Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery ("If you can't find it at Ralph's, you can probably get along without it"), Bertha's Kitty Boutique, the Catchup Advisory Board (which touted "the natural mellowing agents of ketchup"), the American Duct Tape Council, and Bebop-A-Reebop Rhubarb Pie ("sweetening the sour taste of failure through the generations"). The show also contains parodic serial melodramas, such as The Adventures of Guy Noir, Private Eye and The Lives of the Cowboys. 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 News from Lake Wobegon, based in part on Keillor's own hometown of Anoka, Minnesota. Lake Wobegon is a quintessential but fictional Midwestern 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; he worked on other projects, including another live radio program, "The American Radio Company of the Air"--which was virtually identical in format to "A Prairie Home Companion"--for several years. In 1993 he began producing A Prairie Home Companion again, with nearly identically-formatted programs, and has done so 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." However, some sketches do feature Keillor as his alter ego, Carson Wyler, which is a play on his name.

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.

Writing

Keillor has written many magazine and newspaper articles, and nearly a dozen books for adults as well as children. In addition to his time as a writer for The New Yorker, he has written for The Atlantic Monthly and Salon.com.

He also authored an advice column on Salon.com titled "Mr. Blue". Following a heart operation, he resigned on September 4, 2001 in an article entitled "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 called Homegrown Democrat, and in June 2005 he began a syndicated newspaper column called "The Old Scout," which often addresses political issues. The column also runs at Salon.com.

Keillor wrote the screenplay for the 2006 movie version of A Prairie Home Companion, which was directed by Robert Altman. (Keillor also appears in the movie.)

Bookselling

On November 1, 2006, Keillor opened an independent bookstore in the historic Cathedral Hill area of Saint Paul, Minnesota. "Common Good Books, G. Keillor, Prop. is located at the southwest corner of Selby and N. Western Avenues (in the Blair Arcade Building, Suite 14, in the basement, below Nina's Coffee Cafe). Cathedral Hill is in the Summit-University neighborhood. The bookstore opening was covered by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Awards and other recognition

  • In 1994, Keillor was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.
  • "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 [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 with the first The Moth Award - Honoring the Art of the Raconteur at the annual Moth Ball.

Controversies

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, TX, Keillor created a local controversy with his remarks about the event, including the rhetorical suggestion of a connection between event attendees 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 Bush's 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 attendees Keillor did not interact with any audience members between his arrival and his lecture. Prior to Keillor's remarks, participants in the event had considered the visit to have been cordial and warm.

In 2007, Keillor wrote a column which, 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...in which gayness is as common as having brown eyes.... 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.

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' planned addition. Keillor came to an undisclosed settlement with his neighbors shortly after the story became public.

In May 2008, Keillor wrote a controversial article entitled "The Roar of Hollow Patriotism", criticizing the "Rolling Thunder" parade in Washington D.C. on Memorial Day. The “Rolling Thunder” parade is an event that honors and commemorates all United States veterans, and is sponsored by Rolling Thunder, Inc. - a class 501 C-4 non-profit organization that participates in veterans charities and legislation lobbying for military veterans and personnel. The article depicts the biker subculture with negative imagery. He describes the participating bikers as "fat men with ponytails on Harleys" and further depicts them as "grown men playing soldier, making a great hullaballoo without exposing themselves to danger, other than getting drunk and falling off a bike".

Voiceover work

Due to his distinctive voice, 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 advert is the 2003 Honda Accord commercial entitled "Cog", which features a 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 Honda UK advertisements, and even sang the voiceover in the 2004 Honda Diesel commercial entitled " Grr". His most recent advert 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.

Cultural references

His style, particularly his speaking voice, is often the subject of parody. The Simpsons parodies Keillor in an episode where Homer is shown watching a Keillor-like monologist on television, and upon hitting the set, exclaiming "Stupid TV! Be more funny!", which has become one of The Simpsons' oft-quoted catchphrases. 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.

Fellow Minnesotan Michael J. Nelson spoofed Keillor in his novel Death Rat, set in Minnesota and basing several fictional characters on other well-known Minnesota personalities such as Prince and Jesse Ventura.

The popular online cartoon Homestar Runner once announced on their public radio station that Keillor would be "wrestling his own soothing voice in a steel cage" during their "Public Rage-O" wrestling event. Keillor is currently petitioning to add yodeling and polka to the Olympic Games.

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".

Fellow Minnesotan, radio host, comedian, actor and political candidate Al Franken, defending his decision to leave Minnesota for a career in show business, commented during a speech in February 2004 in Manchester, New Hampshire that "we can't all be Garrison Keillor." Pennsylvanian singer-songwriter Tom Flannery wrote a song in 2003 entitled, "I Want a Job Like Garrison Keillor's.

Bibliography

Keillor's work in print includes:

Lake Wobegon

Other

References

External links

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