A modest plan for saving the country

Original Publish Date: August 29, 2006

It’s the best part of summer, the long lovely passage into fall. A procession of lazy golden days which my sandy-haired gap-toothed little girl has been painting, small abstract masterpieces in tempera and crayon and glitter, reminiscent of Franz Kline or Willem de Kooning (his early glitter period). She put a sign out front, “Art for Sale,” and charged twenty-five cents per painting. Cheap at the price.

A teacher gave her this freedom to sit unselfconsciously and put paint on paper. A gentle 6-foot-8 guy named Matt who taught art at her preschool. Her swimming teachers gave her freedom from fear of water. So much that has made this summer a pleasure for her I trace to specific teachers, and so it’s painful to hear about public education sinking all around us. A high school math class of 42! Everybody knows you can’t teach math to 42 kids at once, kids doped up on sugar and Coke, sleepy kids, Hmong kids, African-American kids who think scholarship is white bread. The classroom smells bad because the custodial staff has been cut back. The teacher is shelling out $900/month for health insurance, one-third of his take-home. Meanwhile, he must whip his pupils into shape to pass the federal No Child Left Untested program. This is insanity, the legacy of Republicans and their tax-cutting and their hostility to secular institutions.

Last spring I taught a college writing course and had the privilege of hanging out with people in their early twenties, an inspirational experience in return for which I tried to harass them about spelling and grammar and structure. My interest in being 21 again is less than my interest in having a frontal lobotomy, but the wit and passion and good-heartedness of these kids, which they try to conceal under their exquisite cool, are the hope of this country. You have to advocate for young people, or else what are we here for?

I keep running into retirees in their mid-fifties, free to collect seashells and write bad poetry and shoot video of the Grand Canyon, and goody for them, but they’re not the future. My college kids are graduating with a 20-pound ball of debt chained to their ankles. That’s not right and you know it.

This country is squashing its young. We’re sending them to die in a war we don’t believe in anymore. We’re cheating them so we can offer tax relief to the rich. And we’re stealing from them so that old gaffers like me, who want to live forever, can go in for an MRI if we have a headache.

A society that pays for MRIs for headaches and can’t pay teachers a decent wage has made a dreadful choice. But health care costs are ballooning, eating away at the economy. The boomers are getting to an age where their knees need replacing and their hearts need a quadruple bypass – which they feel entitled to – but our children aren’t entitled to a damn thing. Any goombah with a Ph.D. in education can strip away French and German, music, art, dumb down the social sciences, offer Britney Spears instead of Shakespeare, and there is nothing the kid can do except hang out in the library, which is being cut back too.

This week we mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the Current Occupant’s line “You’re doing a heckuva job,” which already is in common usage, a joke, a euphemism for utter ineptitude. It’s sure to wind up in Bartlett’s Quotations, a summation of his occupancy. Annual interest on the national debt now exceeds all government welfare programs combined. We’ll be in Iraq for years to come. Hard choices need to be made, and given the situation we’re in, I think we must bite the bullet and say no more health care for card-carrying Republicans. It just doesn’t make sense to invest in longevity for people who don’t believe in the future. Let them try faith-based medicine, let them pray for their arteries to be reamed and their hips to be restored, and leave science to the rest of us.

Cutting out health care to one-third of the population – the folks with Bush-Cheney bumper stickers, who still believe the man is doing a heckuva job – will save enough money to pay off the national debt, not a bad legacy for Republicans. As Scrooge said, let them die and reduce the surplus population. In return, we can offer them a reduction in the estate tax. All in favor, blow your nose.

Writing

Books

A complete lists of works, including sample excerpts

Columns

From the New York Times, Time magazine, and the complete Chicago Tribune syndicated columns

Prose

Stories from The New Yorker and other magazines and a few lectures

Sonnets

Sonnets of praise, some erotic, some lamentations, and some street sonnets

Verse

Poems on topics both serious and not-so-serious

Video

Videos from readings, interviews, solo shows and more

Radio

Albums

A complete list of radio and audiobook collections, with audio samples

Audio

Speeches, interviews, readings and other audio clips

Songs

Audio and lyrics for songs featured on A Prairie Home Companion.

The News from Lake Wobegon

The latest news and views from the little town where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average"

A Prairie Home Companion An Evening of Story and Song Love & Comedy Tour Solo The Gratitude Tour

January 27, 2016

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.

Houston, TX

Houston, TX

A live performance with Richard Dworsky at Jones Hall

January 28, 2016

Thursday

8:00 p.m.

Richardson, TX

Richardson, TX

A live performance with Richard Dworsky at the Charles W. Eisemann Center

January 31, 2016

Sunday

7:00 p.m.

Newark, NJ

Newark, NJ

A live performance with Richard Dworsky at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center

February 1, 2016

Monday

8:00 p.m.

New York City, NY

New York City, NY

A live performance at the 92nd Street Y

February 14, 2016

Sunday

3:00 p.m.

Omaha, NE

Omaha, NE

A live performance with Richard Dworsky at the Holland Performing Arts Center

It’s the best part of summer, the long lovely passage into fall. A procession of lazy golden days which my sandy-haired gap-toothed little girl has been painting, small abstract masterpieces in tempera and crayon and glitter, reminiscent of Franz Kline or Willem de Kooning (his early glitter period). She put a sign out front, “Art for Sale,” and charged twenty-five cents per painting. Cheap at the price.

A teacher gave her this freedom to sit unselfconsciously and put paint on paper. A gentle 6-foot-8 guy named Matt who taught art at her preschool. Her swimming teachers gave her freedom from fear of water. So much that has made this summer a pleasure for her I trace to specific teachers, and so it’s painful to hear about public education sinking all around us. A high school math class of 42! Everybody knows you can’t teach math to 42 kids at once, kids doped up on sugar and Coke, sleepy kids, Hmong kids, African-American kids who think scholarship is white bread. The classroom smells bad because the custodial staff has been cut back. The teacher is shelling out $900/month for health insurance, one-third of his take-home. Meanwhile, he must whip his pupils into shape to pass the federal No Child Left Untested program. This is insanity, the legacy of Republicans and their tax-cutting and their hostility to secular institutions.

Last spring I taught a college writing course and had the privilege of hanging out with people in their early twenties, an inspirational experience in return for which I tried to harass them about spelling and grammar and structure. My interest in being 21 again is less than my interest in having a frontal lobotomy, but the wit and passion and good-heartedness of these kids, which they try to conceal under their exquisite cool, are the hope of this country. You have to advocate for young people, or else what are we here for?

I keep running into retirees in their mid-fifties, free to collect seashells and write bad poetry and shoot video of the Grand Canyon, and goody for them, but they’re not the future. My college kids are graduating with a 20-pound ball of debt chained to their ankles. That’s not right and you know it.

This country is squashing its young. We’re sending them to die in a war we don’t believe in anymore. We’re cheating them so we can offer tax relief to the rich. And we’re stealing from them so that old gaffers like me, who want to live forever, can go in for an MRI if we have a headache.

A society that pays for MRIs for headaches and can’t pay teachers a decent wage has made a dreadful choice. But health care costs are ballooning, eating away at the economy. The boomers are getting to an age where their knees need replacing and their hearts need a quadruple bypass – which they feel entitled to – but our children aren’t entitled to a damn thing. Any goombah with a Ph.D. in education can strip away French and German, music, art, dumb down the social sciences, offer Britney Spears instead of Shakespeare, and there is nothing the kid can do except hang out in the library, which is being cut back too.

This week we mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the Current Occupant’s line “You’re doing a heckuva job,” which already is in common usage, a joke, a euphemism for utter ineptitude. It’s sure to wind up in Bartlett’s Quotations, a summation of his occupancy. Annual interest on the national debt now exceeds all government welfare programs combined. We’ll be in Iraq for years to come. Hard choices need to be made, and given the situation we’re in, I think we must bite the bullet and say no more health care for card-carrying Republicans. It just doesn’t make sense to invest in longevity for people who don’t believe in the future. Let them try faith-based medicine, let them pray for their arteries to be reamed and their hips to be restored, and leave science to the rest of us.

Cutting out health care to one-third of the population – the folks with Bush-Cheney bumper stickers, who still believe the man is doing a heckuva job – will save enough money to pay off the national debt, not a bad legacy for Republicans. As Scrooge said, let them die and reduce the surplus population. In return, we can offer them a reduction in the estate tax. All in favor, blow your nose.

Writing

A former obituary writer contemplates life at 75

When I was 20, I dropped out of college and got a job with a morning newspaper whose city editor Mr. Walt Streightiff put me to work writing obituaries of ordinary men and women whose deaths were not considered newsworthy. Other reporters handled crime, natural disasters, City Hall, sports, fatal accidents, high finance, visiting celebrities, and what was called “human interest,” meaning heartwarming stories, usually involving children. I was in charge of ordinary cold death.

Read More

Welcome to the abyss

I am off lingonberries for the time being and Volvos and flat white furniture from Ikea. No meatballs, thank you. Once again the humorless Swedes have chosen a writer of migraines for the Nobel Prize in literature, an author of twilight meditations on time and memory and mortality and cold toast by loners looking at bad wallpaper. It’s not a prize for literature, it’s a prize for nihilism. The Swedes said he’s like Jane Austen combined with Kafka with some of Proust, three other writers you’d never invite to a party. Well, at least they didn’t give it to Joni Mitchell.

Read More

If only the TSA lady had been here my whole life

I went through airport security Monday and neglected to take my laptop out of my briefcase and place it in a separate plastic bin and was properly chastised by a TSA lady who put her hands on her hips and said, “I just got done telling you about laptops!”

Read More

God has sent us a judge. Hallelujah.

The triumph of former judge Roy Moore in Alabama’s Republican Senate primary was a ray of sunshine for those of us who’d like to restore stoning to our legal system and remove the curse of profanity once and for all from our country. Scripture is very clear: “Thou shalt not swear.” But God’s chosen party, the Republican Party, has waffled on this issue, as it has on the issue of adultery and obedience to parents and observance of the Sabbath and the engraving industry. And that is why our country today is on the verge of destruction. The signs are everywhere. Judge Moore is the only man who dares say so.

Read More

The gentle people shall prevail

I passed through Houston on Monday and found a lot of cheerful stoicism (“It could’ve been worse”) a month after Harvey had messed with Texas. Some boarded-up windows downtown, some houses awaiting demolition. A man told me his church was organizing volunteers to muck out houses hit by the hurricane. I only ever heard “muck out” in reference to cleaning a cow barn — in this case, they’d be ripping up carpet and rotten floorboards, pulling out sheetrock, spraying with fungicide. He’d gotten off light, so he was obligated to help those who hadn’t, he said.

Read More

Of thee they sing with feeling

I’ve been riding around the country on a bus for six weeks, doing a dog-and-pony show that, among many other things, included me walking into the crowd and humming a note and the audience singing, a cappella, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty” and singing very well, sometimes awfully well, and if so, we swung into “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Love Me Tender” and two verses of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” including the one about sounding forth a trumpet and the jubilant feet. People had paid $40 to see the show but they were not disappointed to be the show. It was a beautiful thing.

Read More

Beauty is truth and truth is factual

Truth begins with facts. Facts are solid, like bricks. You build a house out of facts, the wolf won’t blow it down. But you drop a fact on your foot, it hurts. I learned this as a boy, living near the Mississippi River in Minnesota when I discovered that where the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi near Cairo, Ill., the Ohio is actually larger than the Mississippi. So it’s the Mississippi that flows into the Ohio. The Ohio is the big show. This fact was shocking to me. I was proud of the river, spent hours on the shore, skipped stones on it, and I felt diminished by the new information. To go from Father of Waters to a mere tributary is a definite fall.

Read More

Of course we’ll help Texas. Sometimes government actually is the answer.

The Republic of Texas believes in self-reliance and is suspicious of Washington sticking its big nose in your business. “Government is not the answer. You are not doing anyone a favor by creating dependency, destroying individual responsibility.” So said Sen. Ted Cruz, though not last week. Sunday on Fox News, Gov. Greg Abbott said Texas would need upward of $150 billion in federal aid for damages inflicted by Harvey. The stories out of Houston have all been about neighborliness and helping hands and people donating to relief funds, but you don’t raise $150 billion by holding bake sales. This is almost as much as the annual budget of the U.S. Army. I’m just saying.

Read More

How did we get here anyway?

An old man gets absorbed in our national drama, same as you — the paper is full of it, the madman who has moved into our lives — and then suddenly I am distracted by the memory of lawn mowing. I once loved mowing, then I hired young men to do it, and now a gang of them comes every week and they roar around for half an hour while I read the paper. Maybe I would be happier if I mowed instead.

Read More

We’ve never been here before

Anxious times in America. There was a news story a few weeks back, “Interrupted Sleep May Lead to Alzheimer’s,” and next to it, a wine review with the line “Vivacious and well balanced, with chewy tannins and flavors of fresh red fruits.” You know and I know that a vivacious beverage will not compensate for losing your marbles. And now, driving to California, I find that I must enter a password in order to change the time zone on my laptop clock. Evidently, someone is out to mess up my schedule and my clock must be secured.

Read More
Radio
The News from Lake Wobegon for May 27, 2017

The News from Lake Wobegon for May 27, 2017

“It’s been warm out here, been in the 80s, so we were very grateful for this big thunderstorm that came along on Tuesday night. Big shards of lightning splitting the sky sure gets everybody’s attention.” The Lutheran Church search committee looks for a replacement for Pastor Inqvist, caterpillars take over the sidewalks, and Irene Bunsen calls into a radio station at 3:30 in the morning, a monologue originally from May 2010.

Read More
The News from Lake Wobegon for May 20, 2017

The News from Lake Wobegon for May 20, 2017

“The weather’s just been gorgeous. It was warm this last week, it was up in the 80s. There was a little bit of rain, not enough, but there’s never enough.” The Whippets win a few games with the help of young pitcher “Whiplash” Wilson, garage sale season begins, the Larson boy gets a job at Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery, and a bat invades Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church and frightens Pastor Haugen, in a May 2014 monologue.

Read More
The News from Lake Wobegon for May 13, 2017

The News from Lake Wobegon for May 13, 2017

“It’s been cool here this last week, actually ‘cold’ I think would be a better term for it — and it snowed. But it’s only the first week of May and precipitation comes in many different forms.” Cool weather temporarily rids the town of insects, Carl Krebsbach becomes a spectacle after being covered in plum blossoms during a storm, and the Lutheran Church searches for a replacement for Pastor Ham, in a monologue from May 2010.

Read More
The News from Lake Wobegon for May 6, 2017

The News from Lake Wobegon for May 6, 2017

“It was warm and kind of windy all week and we got this terrific thunderstorm on Wednesday, which was a great boon, to get washed off like that.” Fishing season begins and fishermen return to their pursuit of famous walleye Old Pete, Luann cuts her hair very short, the town analyzes photos of Pastor Liz in Rome, and Pastor Haugen irritates his secretary Marlene, a monologue from May 2014.

Read More
The News from Lake Wobegon for April 29, 2017

The News from Lake Wobegon for April 29, 2017

“It’s been kind of cool, sunny but windy out there, and the other day a little snow fell, just a few flakes. We ignored it. We did not comment on it.” Bridal shower season arrives, Darlene invites three suitors to the Sidewinder Bar in Millet, and Arlene Bunsen counsels her goddaughter Charlotte against taking up the trombone, in a monologue from April 2015.

Read More
The News from Lake Wobegon for April 22, 2017

The News from Lake Wobegon for April 22, 2017

“Spring has come out awfully certainly there. Just about two weeks ago there was still ice on the lake and now this past week it got up into the 90s. People running around in shorts, t-shirts.” Carl Krebsbach’s brother-in-law attempts to assemble a garden tiller, high school students prepare for life after graduation, and Mary Tollefson looks into modeling school, in a monologue from April 2002.

Read More
The News from Lake Wobegon for April 15, 2017

The News from Lake Wobegon for April 15, 2017

“Getting warm up there, getting up into the 60s and even thinking about getting up into the 70s so it’s been very pleasant — and no snow fell this last week.” The town celebrates the 1st of May, and a few memories of post-prom parties at the Bunsens’ cabin, in a monologue from May 2015.

Read More
The News from Lake Wobegon for April 8, 2017

The News from Lake Wobegon for April 8, 2017

“It’s spring, spring out there, which, in the case of Minnesota, means there’s a little more snow forecast. About eight inches of snow, some places 10 inches, fell.” Farmers prepare for spring planting after a successful year, the town takes a break for Easter Vacation, and Darlene meets a man on Match.com, a monologue originally from April 2008.

Read More
The News from Lake Wobegon for April 1, 2017

The News from Lake Wobegon for April 1, 2017

“We’ve had wind and snow and rain and cold rain and a little snow, that melting snow, and then wind some more. It’s spring we know that now, even if it’s a little chilly.” Darlene has an epiphany while out for an Easter morning walk, Carl Krebsbach feeds a flock of Tundra Swans out on the lake, Viola Tors attends a clothing-optional Lutheran church in Palm Beach, in an April 2016 monologue.

Read More
The News from Lake Wobegon for March 25, 2017

The News from Lake Wobegon for March 25, 2017

“Had some nice days here this last week. It wasn’t too terribly cold. The sun was shining.” Lyle teaches high school students about the vernal equinox, the town’s old men discuss modern cars, and the last of the rhubarb gets made into pies at the Chatterbox Cafe, in a monologue from March 1997.

Read More
A Prairie Home Companion An Evening of Story and Song Love & Comedy Tour Solo The Gratitude Tour
Schedule

October 23, 2017

Monday

8:00 p.m.

Berkeley, CA

Berkeley, CA

A live performance at the University of California’s Zellerbach Hall

November 1, 2017

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.

Knoxville, TN

Knoxville, TN

A live performance at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium

November 2, 2017

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Asheville, NC

Asheville, NC

A live performance at the U.S. Cellular Center

November 3, 2017

Friday

7:00 p.m.

Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee, WI

A live performance at the Pabst Theater

November 4, 2017

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

St. Louis, MO

St. Louis, MO

A live performance at the Fox Theatre

November 5, 2017

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

Lawrence, KS

Lawrence, KS

A live performance at the Lied Center

November 6, 2017

Monday

7:00 p.m.

Des Moines, IA

Des Moines, IA

A live performance at Hoyt Sherman Place

November 7, 2017

Tuesday

7:00 p.m.

Little Rock, AR

Little Rock, AR

A live performance at the Robinson Performance Hall

November 8, 2017

Wednesday

8:00 p.m.

Austin, TX

Austin, TX

A live performance at the Paramount Theatre

November 16, 2017

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

York, PA

York, PA

A live performance at the Strand Theatre

Press/Clips
Press photo #2

Press photo #2

Download a photo for press or media use

Read More
Press photo #1

Press photo #1

Download a photo for press or media use

Read More
CBS Sunday Morning — Garrison Keillor signs off — June 26, 2016

CBS Sunday Morning — Garrison Keillor signs off — June 26, 2016

A profile of Garrison as he prepares to retire from A Prairie Home Companion

Read More

Poems of Gratitude: The Fourth Annual Common Good Books Poetry Contest

Garrison and Common Good Books are sponsoring a poetry contest! Pour your love onto the page, shape it well, and mail your love letter to Common Good Books before April 15 — fame and fortune could be yours.

Read More
Blank on Blank — Garrison Keillor on Humor — December 15, 2015

Blank on Blank — Garrison Keillor on Humor — December 15, 2015

An animated short taken from Garrison’s 1994 interview with George Plimpton

Read More
The National Press Club — 5/22/2015

The National Press Club — 5/22/2015

Garrison spoke at the National Press Club on May 22, 2015

Read More
The Late Late Show — 6/4/2014

The Late Late Show — 6/4/2014

Garrison visits The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson to discuss The Keillor Reader

Read More
C-SPAN: 1999 Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner

C-SPAN: 1999 Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner

Garrison talks about civility in an address to the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner in Washington D.C.

Read More
CBS This Morning: 40 years of A Prairie Home Companion: Behind Garrison Keillor’s success

CBS This Morning: 40 years of A Prairie Home Companion: Behind Garrison Keillor’s success

Garrison chats with CBS This Morning about A Prairie Home Companion‘s 40th anniversary and his book The Keillor Reader

Read More
AP: Keillor to celebrate 40 years on Lake Wobegon

AP: Keillor to celebrate 40 years on Lake Wobegon

Garrison discusses the 40th anniversary of A Prairie Home Companion in an interview with the Associated Press

Read More
Get In Touch
Send Message