Authors: Garrison Keillor

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist, short-story writer, and radio host

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Lake Wobegon Days, 1985

WLT: A Radio Romance, 1991

Wobegon Boy, 1998

Me: By Jimmy (Big Boy) Valente, Governor of Minnesota, as Told to Garrison Keillor, 1999

Lake Wobegon Summer 1956, 2001

Short Fiction:

G. K. the DJ, 1977

Happy to Be Here, 1982

Leaving Home: A Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories, 1987

We Are Still Married: Stories and Letters, 1989

The Book of Guys, 1993

Truckstop, and Other Lake Wobegon Stories, 1995

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Cat, You Better Come Home, 1995

The Old Man Who Loved Cheese, 1996

The Sandy Bottom Orchestra, 1996 (with Jenny Lind Nilsson)

Edited Text:

Good Poems, 2002

Biography

Garrison Keillor (KEE-lur) became widely known for his popular public radio program A Prairie Home Companion, a show featuring a mixture of midwestern folk humor and a variety of musical offerings. Keillor’s stories about his fictional town of Lake Wobegon established him as a major figure in the tradition of American humor. Born Gary Edward Keillor in Anoka, a small town near the Minnesota’s twin cities, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Keillor adopted the pen name of Garrison Keillor at the age of thirteen, by which time he had already become interested in writing. During his high school years, he wrote for the school newspaper until his graduation in 1960, when he enrolled at the University of Minnesota.{$I[AN]9810001863}{$I[A]Keillor, Garrison}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Keillor, Garrison}{$I[tim]1942;Keillor, Garrison}

At the university, Keillor obtained his first radio experience by working at the campus radio station. He also wrote poetry and eventually became editor of the student literary magazine the Ivory Tower, in which he published poems, prose essays and satires, and some fiction. During a break in his academic career, he worked for several months for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Keillor’s early influences included several regular contributors to The New Yorker, notably E. B. White, S. J. Perelman, and A. J. Liebling, but the work published in the Ivory Tower shows that he was already developing an independent voice as a midwesterner drawing upon his cultural environment for the raw materials of his art.

In 1966, Keillor graduated from the University of Minnesota. While seeking to establish himself as a writer, he continued to work at intervals as a radio announcer, and by 1969 he had begun to develop the style that was to become his trademark on the air. Broadcasting from a succession of public radio stations, Keillor presented unusual selections of folk music, which he combined with humorous narrations. He had a poem accepted for publication in The Atlantic Monthly in 1968, and by 1970 The New Yorker had begun to publish some of his short prose works. It was, however, Keillor’s radio broadcasting that both shaped and reflected the development of his idiosyncratic narrative style, and the growing popularity of his radio programs increasingly encouraged him to explore the artistic possibilities of this medium.

As an English major in college, Keillor had become familiar with the humorous tradition of nineteenth century America, including the works of Mark Twain, and he gradually developed his own experiences of midwestern small-town life into fictional form, first as part of his radio programs and later in print in short stories and novels. Keillor’s Lake Wobegon fiction invites comparison with William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County stories, as both these authors created an imaginary neighborhood whose families, characters, values, and problems reappear in different works. Yet Keillor’s stories, most of which were initially developed for oral presentation on the radio, have a different dimension than Faulkner’s writing, which is usually intended more for the eye than for the ear.

The humor of the Lake Wobegon stories is often understated, and much of it deals with the effect of twentieth century developments upon a specific realm. Keillor based his first novel, Lake Wobegon Days, on narratives he had first delivered on A Prairie Home Companion. The stories combine a variety of familiar themes with a strong element of autobiography. Although some critics faulted the novel for lack of coherence, the work enjoyed considerable success with readers and established its author’s national reputation as a fiction writer.

In 1987, after thirteen years of broadcasting A Prairie Home Companion, Keillor moved to New York City and turned to other projects. Shortly after announcing his intention to retire from the program, he published Leaving Home: A Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories. In this work, Keillor included thirty-six stories he had narrated on the radio program, most reproduced substantially as they had been narrated. In New York, Keillor became a regular writer for The New Yorker, and in 1989 he published We Are Still Married, a collection of miscellaneous prose and verse. Later that year, he returned to public radio with a program titled American Radio Company of the Air.

In 1991, WLT: A Radio Romance appeared, a novel in which Keillor draws upon his knowledge of early radio and develops some of the themes and even characters established in his earlier narratives on midwestern themes. The work received a mixed reception, but most critics agreed that it presents a fascinating perspective on Keillor’s relationship to the medium he had done so much to revive.

In 1993, Keillor renamed his radio show A Prairie Home Companion and published The Book of Guys, a collection of humorous stories in which he focused on the predicament of being male. This was followed by the story collection Truckstop, and Other Lake Wobegon Stories in 1995. Other Lake Wobegon novels include Wobegon Boy and Lake Wobegon Summer 1956. Me: By Jimmy (Big Boy) Valente, Governor of Minnesota is a satire of controversial Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler. During his broadcast career, Keillor released a large number of recordings of his stories and radio programs. He has also written the children’s books Cat, You Better Come Home, The Old Man Who Loved Cheese, and The Sandy Bottom Orchestra.

BibliographyFedo, Michael. The Man from Lake Wobegon. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. Fedo’s biography of Keillor, from early childhood until his departure from Minnesota, is an unauthorized biography. Keillor refused to be interviewed by Fedo and encouraged his staff and the performers on his show to do likewise. Still, Fedo reveals close particulars of Keillor’s personal life, his interests and influences, and the phenomenon of his popularity. Particularly useful is Fedo’s four-page bibliography, which includes published interviews and articles about Keillor.Lee, Judith Yaross. Garrison Keillor: A Voice of America. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991. Analysis of Keillor’s stories in Lake Wobegone Days, Leaving Home, and other uncollected short fictions. Examines Keillor’s methods of composition and such literary ancestors of his creation of Lake Wobegone as William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha, James Joyce’s Dublin, and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg.Narveson, Robert D. “Catholic-Lutheran Interaction in Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days and Hassler’s Grand Opening.” In Exploring the Midwestern Literary Imagination, edited by Marcia Noe. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1993. Compares descriptions of Catholic and Lutheran interaction in small towns in Keillor’s fiction with anthropological studies. Suggests that such social interactions in fiction may be conditioned more by the demands exerted by fiction’s thematic significance and related symbolic patterns than by their correspondence to external reality.Scholl, Peter A. Garrison Keillor. New York: Twayne, 1993. Examines Keillor’s humorous and pastoral fiction and the place of Minnesota in literature. Includes a bibliography and an index.Scholl, Peter A. “Garrison Keillor.” In Dictionary of Literary Biography, 1987 Year-Book, edited by J. M. Brook. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. A very good introduction to Keillor’s life and works, giving insights into Keillor’s personality, motivation, and career. Recounts the early influences of his literary heroes and of the Grand Ole Opry. Discusses Keillor’s childhood, education, and individual published works in some detail and chronicles Keillor’s involvement in radio broadcasting.Scholl, Peter A. “Garrison Keillor and the News from Lake Wobegon.” Studies in American Humor 4 (Winter, 1985-1986): 217-228. Comparing Keillor to Will Rogers and Mark Twain, Scholl stresses the regional, homespun character of Keillor’s work. He also draws a distinction between two Keillors, “that of wandering storyteller in exile from Lake Wobegon and that of the urbane wit and writer for The New Yorker.” Scholl discusses the unique brand of storytelling that Keillor uses in his monologues, a combination of spontaneity and studied elegance that is evident in the oral narratives as well as on the printed page. He stresses Keillor’s focus on the “continuity and resilience of human life” and on the belief that “God is good.”Skow, John. “Let’s Hear It for Lake Wobegon!” Reader’s Digest 128 (February, 1986): 67-71. The inviting and immediate tone of this article makes it very engaging. It details a public performance of a segment of A Prairie Home Companion and, in doing so, relates explicitly the tone and mood that infuses all Keillor’s work. Some biographical information gives insight into Keillor’s career as a performer.Traub, James. “The Short and Tall Tales of Garrison Keillor.” Esquire 97 (May, 1982): 108-117. This article, in part an interview, contains an early yet detailed look at Keillor’s performance techniques. Formative influences from childhood, college, and adulthood are recounted. Much attention is paid to Keillor’s method and technique of written composition as well as the evolution of A Prairie Home Companion.
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