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"92nd St Y Talk"

Garrison addresses a crowd at 92nd St Y, a community center on the Upper East Side of New York. He discusses his long career in writing and in radio and celebrates modern revolutions such as the GPS lady, soft butter, and artisan bread.

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"Summer in Lake Wobegon"

Garrison talks about summer in Lake Wobegon and a few of the town's guiding principles. From Mr. Keillor's Sunday Night Service.

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"June 19, 1999"

Live from Reno, Nevada, with special guests Kirkmount, Geoff Muldaur, and Fritz Richmond.

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Stock up on duet CDs, The News from Lake Wobegon collections, and Powdermilk Biscuit T-shirts for the whole family!

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Garrison Keillor

Graduation Advice

"The New York Times: Lighten Up, Graduates"

Originally published in The New York Times Exhausted Faculty, Anxious Graduates, Weepy Parents and Angry Taxpayers: It's a great privilege to be your commencement speaker, but nevertheless I will be brief. First, my congratulations. I wish you a good career and a wonderful life. In fact, life is pretty good in America today, except for the fact that there is…>>


A summer night in the Big Apple Blossom

I walk around New York City on these perfect summer nights, sirens passing, helicopters chunking above, subway rumbling below, diners in sidewalk cafes, dogs walking their owners, and after a little while, I look for an excuse to sit down. I’m walking because I’m a sedentary guy who is scheduled to fly to Prague with my ambulatory wife who will want to see castles and parks and museums and who will be gratified if I can keep up with her. I don’t care about castles; I am a democrat. My favorite museum is in Cooperstown. But I shall be her consort, walking three steps behind, my head up, fulfilling my role.

Walking around the big city, whenever I see a lighted ballfield, I turn in that direction and find a spot by the backstop and sit. Manhattan is an island, short on space, and so the Parks Department likes to lay out four ballfields in one rectangle, the four home plates in the corners, the diamonds aiming in toward the middle, so that the outfielders are intermingled with each other. A center fielder may backpedal for a long fly ball and make the catch next to someone else’s second base. It’s a whole new ballgame. Interdependence is the key, which is an amazing thing in a country as divided as ours is. I know New Yorkers who’ve never been to Kansas. Hard for me to accept that as normal.

It’s sort of like the great Rose Reading Room at the Public Library on 42nd Street, that hushed chapel where a couple hundred people sit silently at long tables, reading or tapping on laptops, each in his or her separate bubble, bubbles that may be fragile and so a severe decorum is observed. The little skritch of an iPhone camera would violate it. So people don’t. It’s basic cooperation, same as a shortstop saying, “You’re good, you’re good, you’re good” to reassure a backpedaling right fielder from next door to keep his eye on the fly ball, that his path is clear.

New York is a big sports town because a goodly percentage of the population is close enough to the poverty line to be aware of it and pro sports stardom is the fairy tale of poor kids growing up to be rich. I know Midwestern kids who have zero interest in athletics, whose passion is playing video games. There are not many multimillionaire video gamers and they don’t care.

Writing a best-selling novel was my fairy tale, and I’m completely over it now, but in the reading room, I like to imagine that the young African-American woman and the young Vietnamese guy at my table are entertaining that dream. American literature is leaning toward minority authors because that dream is powerfully attractive. A coming-of-age novel about an immigrant family with an abusive father and overwhelmed mother and a nerdy kid with a terrible stutter who, by Chapter 3, you realize is the author of the book. I know Midwestern writers who have zero interest in the novel, whose passion is poetry. There is one millionaire poet in America, Billy Collins, and all the others are earning less than $50K/year teaching creative writing.

My game these days is the memoir and, at 75, I am one of the oldest memoirists around. Most of them are in their 40s. I waited for some sort heartbreak that would make my memoir interesting, but nothing happened, and then I realized that I had married so well that life was likely to go on pleasantly into dementia and beyond, so I’m now almost finished with the first draft. It’s all about luck. People are going to resent it.

I think of the poets vs. the novelists on one diamond, and we memoirists, Shirts vs. Skins, on the adjacent one. I’m a Shirt, a writer who does not tell all. If I start to talk about my impoverished youth when I was sent to walk along the railroad track to pick up coal to heat our house and then I remember that there was no track near our house and anyway the trains were diesel, I realize I have wandered into the novelists field, and I yell, “Sorry!” and I come back. Same if I get too engrossed in describing the woods. The truth is, I was lucky. It could’ve been worse. I married blindly and well. None of us will make it to Cooperstown but it’s okay. A summer night in New York. Be grateful.

 

Old man at the prom

I went to prom Saturday night at my daughter’s school, which parents are allowed to attend so long as we don’t get in the way. It was held in the gym, under the basketball hoops, boys in suits and ties, girls in prom dresses, a promenade of graduating seniors, the crowning of a king and queen, a loud rock band to discourage serious conversation. This is a school for kids we once called “handicapped,” now we say “learning challenged.” I went to public school: you stood on the corner, you boarded the bus, it took you to school. This school is one that each of us parents searched desperately for as our child sank into the academic slough.

I stood in the shadows watching the promenade and my heart clutched as it often does at this school. Some of the students look as ordinary as you or I, and others have an odd gait, quirky movements of head or arms, a twitchiness, a speech abnormality. My heart clutches at the sight because I recall clearly how cruelly we treated people like them when I was their age.

And then the band struck up “So Fine” (My baby’s so doggone fine, she sends those chills up and down my spine), and young hips started shaking. The band was a local fivesome, old guys my age, the lead guitarist going bald on top but still maintaining a white ponytail down to his butt, playing songs of my youth, sort of incongruous as if my high school prom had featured the Charleston and the Turkey Trot, but the kids were flying high and improvising, and then we were on to “Brown-Eyed Girl” and I saw a friend of my daughter out on the floor, a young woman who was terribly injured as an infant and now, at sixteen, is blind in one eye and walks with a lurch, one arm semi-paralyzed, and there she was on the dance floor, in transcendent ecstasy, dancing to Van Morrison played by old men.

She was utterly transported, surrounded by classmates, each with his or her own twitches and lurches, all of them dancing like mad, laughing and a-running, skipping and a-jumping, just as the song says, and singing “sha la la la la la,” and the blessed fact was that none of them seemed the least bit self-conscious. When I was that age, I kept a running score on the Cool-O-Meter. These kids were free of that. Six kids in a conga line went by, two boys leaped straight up and down, obese children shimmied with abandon. Their own (pardon me) handicaps had preserved them from the obsessive self-awareness that we normals were plagued by in our youth and still are today, the constant comparisons to others, our work vs. their job, our kids, our clothes, a whole checklist.

The lead guitarist played his five or six basic licks, and the kids danced as if possessed, including the girl in orthopedic shoes, hands over her head. It was a vision of paradise, where at last we shall all be equal in the eyes of the Lord. And then a tall girl named Elizabeth dashed up, threw her arms around me, and we boogied. I do not, in the normal course of things, ever boogie. It is not what I was brought up for. But she obliged me to boogie. And I sang “Sha la la la la la la la la la lah de dah.”

Sunday, the gym was packed for graduation. A bagpiper led the Class of 2018 in, most of whom I recognized from the dance the night before. I sat there, tissue in hand, as one by one, the graduates came to the microphone and spoke their piece. I once made my living speaking into microphones, which came easily to me, and I could hear the enormity of their challenges, managing their tics, working around the blocks and stutters, and I was proud beyond proud of their valor. The president of the class, a tall Liberian girl, spoke, movingly, imploring us all to get to know each other for who we are, not for what we look like.

My daughter and I stood in the sunlight, watching the recessional go by, and she pointed out a favorite teacher of hers and said, “She and her wife have a little boy who I babysit.” The phrase “she and her wife” is dramatic to me, and to my daughter it is unremarkable, just as race is and ethnicity. Don’t believe everything you read. We are moving on.

 

A series of poems read by Garrison

Radio
The Writer’s Almanac for June 18, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for June 18, 2018

On this date in 1940, Winston Churchill gave his famous “finest hour” speech. He had only been prime minister for about a month.

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The Writer’s Almanac for June 17, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for June 17, 2018

It’s the birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Hersey, who wrote the nonfiction piece “Hiroshima” for the New Yorker about the obliteration of the city. It is also the birthday of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

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The Writer’s Almanac for June 16, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for June 16, 2018

Today is Bloomsday, which commemorates the day on which the events of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses take place. Joyce chose June 16th, 1904, for the setting because it was the day of his first date with Nora Barnacle, his future wife.

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The Writer’s Almanac for June 15, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for June 15, 2018

On this day in 1752, Benjamin Franklin is believed to have performed his famous kite experiment and proved that lightning is electricity. Franklin, as it turns out, was lucky to have conducted this experiment safely. Several others who attempted it after him were electrocuted.

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The Writer’s Almanac for June 14, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for June 14, 2018

It’s the birthday of a man whose image has become one of the most popular cultural icons of the past half century: Che Guevara, born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna in Rosario, Argentina (1928).

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The Writer’s Almanac for June 13, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for June 13, 2018

Today is the birthday of W.B. Yeats, born in Dublin in 1865. In 1889, he met Maud Gonne, an actress & activist who spoke out for Irish nationalism and independence. She became the love of his life, and though she refused his proposal of marriage, she believed that they were spiritually married.

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The Writer’s Almanac for June 12, 2018

The Writer’s Almanac for June 12, 2018

It was on this day in 1942 that Anne Frank was given a small red and white diary as a gift for her 13th birthday. About a week after her birthday, on June 20th, she wrote: “Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me … because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a 13-year-old schoolgirl.”

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Aspen Institute – Limericks

Aspen Institute – Limericks

Garrison was invited to the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Words Summer Soirée, on the premise that he would talk about storytelling. Instead, he decided to tell some limericks.

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Letterman appearance (1983)

In this clip from the archives, Garrison talks to David Letterman about his first bestselling book, Happy to Be Here. Explaining his past difficulty writing a novel, Garrison jokes, “I tried to write a novel, David, but I had a basic problem, which was that I was able to move people into a scene, but I was never able to get them out again.”

Read More

92nd St Y Talk

Garrison addresses a crowd at 92nd St Y, a community center on the Upper East Side of New York. He discusses his long career in writing and in radio and celebrates modern revolutions such as the GPS lady, soft butter, and artisan bread.

Read More
Writing

A summer night in the Big Apple Blossom

I went to prom Saturday night at my daughter’s school, which parents all allowed to attend so long as we don’t get in the way. It was held in the gym, under the basketball hoops, boys in suits and ties, girls in prom dresses, a promenade of graduating seniors, the crowning of a king and queen, a loud rock band to discourage serious conversation.

Read More

Old man at the prom

I went to prom Saturday night at my daughter’s school, which parents all allowed to attend so long as we don’t get in the way. It was held in the gym, under the basketball hoops, boys in suits and ties, girls in prom dresses, a promenade of graduating seniors, the crowning of a king and queen, a loud rock band to discourage serious conversation.

Read More

Making myself useful for heaven’s sake

The lilacs are in bloom out at the old family homestead and it’s pleasant to stand by the bushes and smell them and recall that the outhouse used to stand a few feet away. Who does not feel his faith in resurrection strengthened by this news? We’ve all been stinkers at times but once we leave the body behind, we shall bloom in the life to come.

Read More

The Quotable Keillor

“Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.”
― Garrison Keillor, We Are Still Married: Stories & Letters

“Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have got it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known”
―Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days

“If you lived today as if it were your last, you’d buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn’t you?”
―Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days

“I can see how I could write a bold account of myself as a passionate man who rose from humble beginnings to cut a wide swath in the world, whose crimes along the way might be written off to extravagance and love and art, and could even almost believe some of it myself on certain days after the sun went down if I’d had a snort or two and was in Los Angeles and it was February and I was twenty-four, but I find a truer account in the Herald-Star, where it says: “Mr. Gary Keillor visited at the home of Al and Florence Crandall on Monday and after lunch returned to St. Paul, where he is currently employed in the radio show business… Lunch was fried chicken with gravy and creamed peas”.”
―Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days

“The rich can afford to be progressive. Poor people have reason to be afraid of the future.”
―Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days

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A friendly column, nothing about him whatsoever

The lilacs are in bloom out at the old family homestead and it’s pleasant to stand by the bushes and smell them and recall that the outhouse used to stand a few feet away. Who does not feel his faith in resurrection strengthened by this news? We’ve all been stinkers at times but once we leave the body behind, we shall bloom in the life to come.

Read More

Someone to sit next to me

There was so much good news last week. Gorillas appear to be thriving, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, and there are about 361,919 of them, twice as many as had been believed. Humpback whales, who were nearly hunted out of existence in the 19th century, are making a comeback in the seas off Antarctica: the birth rate is on the upswing, according to a new study. (The animals are the size of a school bus and have a life expectancy similar to ours.) And a study at the University of Michigan shows that people who work out even 10 minutes a day tend to be more cheerful than those who don’t.

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Dating in middle age, choosing a publisher, and making yourself heard

Dating in middle age, choosing a publisher, and making yourself heard

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a corporate speechwriter and a copywriter. I am 55.5 and would like to meet the right man who enjoys words. I placed a personal ad but got a response from a man in Federal Prison. It seemed intrusive to ask how he landed himself there, so I didn’t respond. I’ve got many friends and I’m perfectly okay-looking. What should I be doing? Taking trips? Moving to another country with a shortage of middle-aged women? Making a systematic request to my entire list of acquaintances to ask them to produce one person? What would you do? I am about to give up.  

-Exhausted by Love

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What’s been going on around here lately

The Swedish Academy’s decision to not award the Nobel Prize in Literature this spring hit me hard, of course. I figured this would be my year and was counting on the cash prize of a cool million bucks. A man needs a little boost now and then. I know I do. People associate me with radio but I was also a Novelist — okay? Novels. With characters and dialogue. Lonely guys looking out rain-spattered windows at bare trees and wondering, “Who am I anyway?”

I did some of that last Saturday morning. I am married to a perfectionist, and so my faults are more clear to me than necessary. I am 75 years old, people. How many men of 75 are actively engaged in self-improvement? Are there rehab programs for us? Inspirational books aimed at us? No.

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Forgot password? Try “LIFEISGOOD42J75#REAL”

It’s spring in Minnesota finally. My lawn is greenish, birds sing in the morning, we go walking in a sweater, no gloves. There is still ice on the lakes, but if you don’t look at them, you don’t notice. Life is good. This is not pointed out often enough, the goodness of life, because journalists know that Pulitzer Prizes are awarded for exposing corruption and sending the mayor to jail for skimming money off the School Milk Fund so the kiddos get 2% rather than whole milk, it’s not given for writing about a walk in the park on a sunny day. Nonetheless, we do have parks and the sun does shine.

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A runaway lover, text problems, and dinner duties

A runaway lover, text problems, and dinner duties

Dear Mr. Blue,

I’m a single 51-year-old who’s been enjoying the outdoorsy life in Denver for the past fifteen years. I have a nice condo, good friends, a great job in the tech industry. Up until a month ago I thought I had the ideal life—and then my lover of eight years left me for another woman. He said he’d met her through friends and that they’d “clicked” in some magical way he’d never felt before. After he told me, he still slept at my condo that night (albeit in the guest room), and then he was gone the next morning.

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