At The New Yorker: My Own Memoir
More memoirs have been written on the theme Me and the New Yorker than about the Spanish-American War or homesteading in Nebraska or train trips down South America way, which is a tribute to its legendary editors Harold Ross and William Shawn and also to the rich self-consciousness of some of their writers. Mr. Shawn was followed by Bob Gottlieb who could easily have become legendary but didn’t stick around long enough, who was followed by Tina Brown who was legendary in her own mind and didn’t need to be remembered, and then David Remnick, a good guy who will surely inspire a memoir or two someday though the magazine now is so straight compared to the mysterious bundle of eccentricities I loved so much in my youth in Anoka, Minnesota — the absence of a masthead or Table of Contents, the unsigned Talk of the Town pieces with their brisk whimsical tone, the Letter from Paris signed simply “Genet,” the horse-racing column by “Audax Minor,” squibs about Ivy League football, the Long-Winded Lady, “The Wayward Press,” the great two-initial authors (E.B., J.D., A.J., S.J., J.F.), and “Annals of Medicine,” and enormous long pieces about exotic places winding their way through columns of ads for Baccarat and Jaguar and Chanel. It was another world from mine. I only knew Mr. Shawn from his neatly penciled comments signed WS in the margins of galley proofs and a couple of awkward lunches at the Algonquin, not enough material for a book-length memoir so I made up some stuff about him and stuck it in the novel Love Me. And while I was at it, I murdered a publisher, which I’d always wanted to do.

William Shawn took a shine to me right off the bat when I arrived at the magazine back in the fall of 1969. “Glad you’re not creepy and obsessive like some of these introspective sons of bitches around here,” he said. “I’ve had a bellyful of neurotics. White and Thurber drove me nuts and all those Harvard snots. You look like a midwesterner. Me, too. Chicago. Call me Bill.”

We liked to shoot pocket billiards at a little smoke-filled joint called Patsy’s and we discovered we shared a fondness for old Chicago bands like the Jazz Equestrians and the Skippers of Rhythm and we both knew the rules for a poker variant called footsie. He was an excellent bowler and arm wrestler and could toss playing cards into a top hat with accuracy at up to thirty-five feet, farther if he was drunk. He could size a man up by studying the soles of his shoes and the back of his shirt collar. He could tell if you’d recently been to church or taken an unmarried woman to the movies. He knew every species of bird and he could open any lock with a paper clip and could disassemble a typewriter and put it back together in two minutes flat. One night over a pitcher of martinis he told me his life story: it just flowed out. All about his mama and how she prayed every night that his schoolwork would be free of typographical errors. His childhood in Chi-town. His Irish dad, Sean Hanratty, a button man for the Bugs Moran gang, killed in the Arbor Day Massacre. Young William changed his name and hitchhiked to Vegas to deal blackjack for Bugsy Siegel and then a man named Crossandotti sent him to New York as Harold Ross’s stickman, back when the magazine was a hotbed of steady tipplers and wisecracking women with hinges on their heels. “The Mafia owned it, you know,” he told me.

“They owned The New Yorker?”

“What we talking about? Silk undies? Yes. The New Yorker. Still do.”

“The Mafia owns the magazine?”

He was lining up a very tricky bank shot, a Lucky Strike in the corner of his mouth, smoke curling up under his fedora — “What does it matter? Owners are owners. Thank God it’s not the Newhouses, I say. At least the Crossandottis know they don’t know anything. All the Newhouses want is to stick their noses up the butts of the rich and famous.” And then he banked the eight-ball into the side pocket off the fourteen and picked up the money off the bar and stuffed it in his breast pocket. “Want to go again? For double?” he muttered.

“You’re so different from the William Shawn I always imagined,” I said. “James Thurber portrayed you as a flustered guy who spoke in a whisper and obsessed over commas and ate dry cornflakes for lunch and dreaded elevators and other motor vehicles.”

He chuckled. “Thurber was blind, you know. The phone rang and he’d pick up the steam iron. He needed a lot of supervision. Him and White both. White struggled to operate an ordinary stapler. A coffeemaker was beyond him. His ambition was to raise chickens. And The Years with Ross was about as true to life as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

“Sometimes I feign fluster—it’s a useful stratagem with women,” he said.

“I liked hanging out with Dorothy Parker because she could talk louder than anybody else. Glamorous woman, if you like the smell of gin. She had a voice that could crack ice. Most guys were scared shitless and of course her pal Benchley was completely in the bag, so Dotty needed a man to stand up to her. We were having lunch at the Algonquin and Kaufman was there and Marc Connelly and Harpo Marx and Joe Kennedy and Dietrich and that whole crowd, and I said to Dietrich in kraut, ‘I got a sausage for your bun, mein Schatz,’ and that got Dotty all jealous and she was running her toe up and down my calf. So I took off her shoe and pissed in it without anybody noticing and handed it to her and said, ‘Hey, you’re in luck,’ and she jumped up and yelled, ‘He pissed in my shoe!’ and they all said, ‘Aw, shuddup, you’re drunk.’ All except Dietrich. She saw the whole thing. She saw that the great thing about being a quiet little bald guy is that you can piss in a lady’s shoe at lunch and nobody will ever believe you did it. She leaned over and said, ‘I have a sentence I’d like you to invert for me.’ And we went upstairs to her suite and steamed up the windows for a while. The woman had fabulous legs and her other features were pretty good too. Hemingway was passed out on the couch. I slipped a ladyfinger in his shirt pocket. She was crazy about me, and so were some others in that Hollywood crowd, but why look back? Now I’ve got Shochine and I’ve never been happier.”

This was before he broke up with Shochine and took up with Louise Twelve Trees.

He gave me the nickname Prairie Dog and he’d ring me up around 5:30 on a Friday afternoon and holler into the phone, “Come on, Skip, let’s go get our pant-legs wet,” and off we’d go to the 79th Street Boat Basin with a sack of grub and a bottle of bourbon and boarded the Shawnee and cast off the lines and motored down the Hudson. “Ain’t this the life!” he said. “To hell with Harvard and fuck the fact-checkers, let’s have a party!” He got out of his suit and into shorts and a black muscle shirt as midtown Manhattan slid past on the port side, the cross streets like corn rows, and when 43rd passed, we yelled, “Boogers!” and hooked little fingers. Around Canal Street I hoisted the mainsail and we caught fresh wind at the Battery and flew around Governors Island and out under the Verrazano Bridge to sea and he sang out, “The sun’s over the yardarm, Prairie Dog!” and I broke out the bourbon and poured two china cups full and he drew a chestful of salt air and started talking.

“I’m a hunted man. Crazy magazine’s got me jumping like a poisoned rat in a coffee can. Some fool stuck his head in my office today and asked what’s the difference between a solecism and a solipsism. Go spend a week with a dictionary I told him. A writer is supposed to know the English language, dang it.”

I asked him about the perils of success and how fame and fortune seem to dig a deeper hole for a guy. I was thinking of J.D. Salinger and J.F. Powers, two heavy hitters who hadn’t been heard from for a long long time.

“They’re swinging too hard. Trying to aim the ball.” He hawked and spat. “Listen, kid. Every writer I know is on a winding mountain road in the fog, headlights on high beam, worried about plunging over the cliff. That’s what it means to be in the business. Some of these bozos get confused about their capabilities, like a sumo wrestler trying to run the 440 low hurdles. Or they wind up as preachers pandering to high-minded dipshits. The Betterment of Man is the worst motive for writing.Better to write out of sheer cussedness and fling a cherry bomb into the ladies’ latrine and make them all jump out of their camisoles than climb into the pulpit and pontificate about the sun and moon and the Milky Way and the meaning of it all.

“John O’Hara had it about right. The purest motivation for a writer is to earn a pile of money. Which of course makes you the target of envy and you wind up with gobs of spit on your shoes and you don’t win the Pulitzer and critics spitball you for the rest of your life. But what the hell. You can cry on your way to the bank.”

Mr. Shawn walked to the rail and looked at the houses of Brooklyn as it slipped past in the twilight. “That’s Bay Ridge,” he said, pointing to a low rise. “I was in love with a lady who lived there. Bright red nail polish and curlicue hair and some of the nicest epidermis you ever saw. Met her at a party at Norman Mailer’s. What an arrogant blowhole he was before I slapped him around a little. He was coming on to the Brooklyn girl at that party and I had to take him outside and give him a nosebleed. Now the guy can almost write sometimes. My gosh, she was an angel. I’d be sailing along and she’d come swimming out from Coney Island with her clothes tied on top of her head. Not that the woman needed clothes. My gosh.

“Andy White used to come sailing with me sometimes and then I caught him below decks writing a Talk of the Town piece about the sea and the skyline and what not and I threw him over the side. The guy was what you might call over-sensitive. Wrote that crazy Elements of Style that screwed up millions of college kids. Cleanliness, accuracy, brevity — my aunt Sally. Somebody told him he was a great prose stylist and it went to his head and he devoted his life to painting Easter eggs. Him and Strunk have screwed up more writers than gin and Scotch combined. You take that Elements of Style too seriously and you’ll get so you spend three days trying to write a simple thank-you note.

If I were teaching college composition, my first assignment would be: write something that would horrify E. B. White. Write a scene in which a man backs his pickup to the edge of Yosemite and dumps a load of empties into a stand of Ansel Adams birch trees. Make it gutsy and wild and to hell with brevity. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words — what a prissy idea of literature! Tell it to Tolstoy! Damn it, am I drunk or what? Pour me another.” I refilled his cup.

“I have spent my entire adult life trying to make writers look good. Salinger! Capote! Hersey! Rachel Carson! The world hailed them as visionaries! All I can say is: YOU SHOULD’VE SEEN THE FIRST DRAFT, FOLKS! Man is conceived in ignorance and born into squalor and grief and it goes downhill from there. I was Mama and Daddy to those guys, I lent them lunch money and balanced their checkbooks and fended off old lovers and saved their bacon more than once, meanwhile I took their manuscripts, which had all the elegance of wet cardboard, and pressed them into shape and they were hailed as giants, and I was scorned as a balding obsessive-compulsive dwarf with an agoraphobia problem. Writers come in here, hat in hand, hairy-legged realists and agony queens and cloud gazers, and their egos are frail and feverish and they expect to be treated like undiscovered geniuses and if you tell them the straight truth and say ‘I ain’t printing this shit!’ they never forgive you. They lie in ambush, dreaming up demeaning anecdotes about you, hoping to review your autobiography in the Times so they can piss on your shoes.”

“You’re the greatest editor of the twentieth century,” I said with a degree of sincerity. “You’re my main man, Mr. Shawn. If nobody else does it, I will write your autobiography myself.”

“I never wanted to edit,” he said. “All I ever wanted was to go out on a boat with a bottle of bourbon and fish.”

We got through the Verrazano Narrows and tossed out a line and he pulled in a fine sea bass (“Chilean,” he said, removing the hook from its lip) and he told me how he’d fished with Hemingway in the Keys and had to show him how to jig for grouper and meanwhile I cleaned the fish and grilled it on a hibachi in the cockpit as Mr. Shawn played Gershwin and Kern and Porter on his concertina and then I hollered, “Eats is ready, Mr. Shawn baby!” and he and I sat on the deck and ate the fish with raw onions doused in gin between slices of pumpernickel and got good and tight.

Mr. Shawn took me golfing at the Westchester Country Club. He had a beautiful swing. To correct for some bursitis in his left shoulder, he adjusted his stance about 18 degrees clockwise and turned his right foot in and pinned a lead sinker to the bill of his cap, which hung down like a plumb bob, helping him to keep his shoulders level.

“Some people only know me from people’s memoirs of life at The New Yorker, and in the office I try to impersonate a spooky little recluse who obsesses over commas and semicolons,” he said, “but my big loves are fishing and women and golf and what I obsess over is my swing.”

It took him a minute to set himself up for the shot. He picked up some grass and tossed it to test the wind, got his feet dug in, adjusted the plumb bob, and waggled the club a few times. “I whipped Updike’s ass but good. Many times. He’s a yakker, you know. Likes to stand behind you on the tee and just as you get your feet planted, he’ll say something like ‘That sand trap sure reminds me of the crotch of a woman I knew once’ and try to throw you mentally off your game, but here’s what you do to shut a guy up—” And Mr. Shawn hit a beautiful drive that flew straight and long and dropped and rolled and rolled, a dream shot, and he marched down the fairway and hit a five-iron to the green, and then a long putt that curved and caught the corner of the cup and fell in for a birdie, meanwhile I had topped my tee shot and sent it dribbling twenty yards and then laced it into the neighboring fairway and wound up with an 8.

He turned to me as he shoved the putter in his bag. “Writers like to think that writing is like Arctic exploration or flying the Atlantic solo but actually it’s more like golf. You’ve got to go out and do it every day and live by the results. You can brood over it but in the end you’ve got to take the club out of the bag and take your swing. You hit the ball to where it wants to go, a series of eighteen small steel cups recessed in turf, on a course that others have traversed before you. You are not the first. You accomplish this by making big mistakes and turning them into advantages and overcoming your damn self-consciousness.”

He teed up and tied the lead weight to his cap and turned 18 degrees and set the back foot and waggled the club and hit a 200-yard beauty straight down the fairway.

“I can tell that you’re of the self-consciousness school,” he said.

“Oh?” I replied.

“Guys who spend a lifetime lining up a four-foot putt, reading the bent of the grass, the wind, the planets, checking out the geologic formations below, and then they tap the ball and it rolls eighteen feet into a mud puddle.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant, I said.

“Talking about your writing, Mr. Wyler. You’ve got the problem so many English majors have. You’re all fluttery inside. You suffer from a girlish sensibility. Your writing is all mannered and fussy and .”

“Girlish?” I was shocked.

I didn’t write much for a long time after that. Words wouldn’t come. I sat in my office and thought about writing but nothing happened. Every morning, walking along West 43rd Street, I saw men sitting in doorways on scraps of cardboard, begging, jiggling change in paper cups, and one old-timer with a sign against his chest, FORMER NEW YORKER WRITER DOWN ON LUCK. WILLING TO REMINISCE FOR FOOD. I gave him a five-dollar bill. “Once I was just like you,” he said, “and then I was on the street. Take it from one who knows, a person can fall a great distance in a short time. It happens all the time. Former stars of stage and screen hustling their next cup of java. Nothing fades faster than reputation, boy. Tempus goes fugiting along and your chins drop, your rave reviews turn dry and yellow and your name becomes a trivia question. So be kind to your inferiors because someday you’ll have to ask them for a dollar for coffee.”

Three weeks after Mr. Shawn said my writing was girlish, he told me to go to Alaska and write about it. “Get out there in the Alaska wilderness and climb those mountains and cross those vast frozen wastes and camp with the migrating caribou and meet the aboriginal peoples and go north until you can go no farther and pitch your tent and look at death and spit in its eye. Don’t you come back here and write some fitful 1,500-word showpiece of puissant sensibility and irony and ambiguity, some half-assed feuilleton about Canada. Sit your butt down in the tent with a paper and pencil and a bottle of rock ‘n’rye and write your damn heart out and come back here with 100,000 words and none of them modifiers and I’ll print the whole damn thing, and if the boys at the Century Club don’t like it, let them shake their wattles all they like. You understand me, boy?”

So I flew to Seattle and sat in the airport and a girl sat down next to me. Her name was Alana, her high cheekbones were flush with vitality and her lips were broad and full. I didn’t want her to be attracted to me but she was. She sat next to me on the plane to Juneau. “I can’t talk to you,” I said. “I’m writing for The New Yorker, I have to focus on my experiences so I can write.”

“I’d love to be an experience someone writes about in The New Yorker,” she remarked. I said that I was already in a relationship, one that begins with the letter M, and had no interest in fooling around. “Life doesn’t always turn out according to plan,” she said.

It was a rough ride. Juneau was socked in by clouds and the plane hurtled down through 10,000 feet of murk into a narrow mountain pass, jagged ridges visible at three o’clock and nine—the wheels lowered, the ground still not visible, and then the plane began to shake violently—I caught a glimpse of a pale flight attendant weeping and holding a rosary to her lips—the cockpit door flew open and the copilot stuck his head into the lavatory and cast up his lunch—a serving cart tore loose from its moorings and careened down the aisle, scattering ice and hot coffee—the plane rolled over to one side, then the other—there was wailing and gnashing—and Alana took my hand and told me she loved me, and she felt we must affirm life in the face of death—and she unbuttoned her blouse as the plane groaned and rolled and we groped and kissed passionately as it pitched and bucked and her blouse was off and my face was crimson with lipstick when finally the plane bounced twice on the tarmac and rolled to the terminal and I zipped up my fly and staggered into the terminal full of profound feelings and she and I took a courtesy van to a place called Dave’s Wilderness Lodge and tumbled into bed for more turbulence and slept for twelve hours and did it all over again.

“It was a good experience for you, wasn’t it,” she said. “I certainly felt it had literary qualities.”

“Well, I don’t know. It strikes me as unreal.”

“I want to be as meaningful for you as any other wilderness experience,” she said. “And it’s okay if you use my real name and everything.”

Two weeks, day after day, night after night, Alana and I shacked up at the Wilderness Lodge. I walked up and down the trail a little but I have never been good at the identification of birds or trees, and after two weeks, the Alaska piece seemed to be mostly about me and Alana. It began:

“What the heck are you doing in Alaska?” the old-timer said to us at the urinal in the Malamute Saloon one Sunday night not long ago after we had come down from two weeks on the Chilkoot Trail and found the bar made famous by the late Robert W. Service in his poem “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” once a staple of amateur recitations, at least in this midwesterner’s boyhood, and ordered a pint of beer.

There was quite a bit about the Lodge and saunas and sleeping naked and and “taking Mr. Scroggins to town in the pink convertible.”

Mr. Shawn called me the next morning. “What does ‘getting the pole in the tent flap’ mean?” he asked. “And how about ‘parallel parking’?”

“I can tell that you don’t like it,” I said.

He said, “Don’t give it a thought. It was a warm-up piece. Alaska got your juices going. You’ll come back to New York and find something you really care about and everything will be jim-dandy.”

That was Mr. Shawn for you. The guy was a font of hope. He had unlimited faith in writers and their ability to work things out eventually, or if not unlimited, then darned near unlimited, certainly more than 65 percent.

I tiptoed out of the Pinecone Room while Alana was asleep and flew back to New York and took a taxi to The New Yorker to find the staff in ferment, people huddled in the hallway on the 17th floor whispering, office doors closed, secretaries weeping, urgent memos circulating and a petition to the publisher, Mr. Tony Crossandotti, pleading with him not to fire Mr. Shawn. And a note from Mr. Updike: “Keillor — Call me. John.” It thrilled me. A note from my hero, signed, by his first name.

I found Mr. Shawn in his office, his head out the window, elbows on the sill, watching a fire blazing out of control a few blocks away. Two hook and ladders were in the street, apparatus raised, pouring water on the blaze. Billows of smoke drifted westward.

Vanity Fair,” he said. “One of those dang celebrity rags. Somebody must’ve left a curling iron on and set fire to the glossies. Used to date a woman who worked there. A nice person but naïve. You worried about her having to cross busy streets. And of course the magazine is a piece of shit. Celebrity profiles, edited by the subject’s publicist.”

“Why were you fired, Mr. Shawn?”

“I wasn’t,” he said.

He reached down behind the galley proofs, the Webster’s 2nd Unabridged, and a photo of Dietrich, and took out a bottle of Jim Beam and a couple Dixie cups and poured us drinks.

“I fell in love,” he said. “I’m going to LA. to marry her. Ever hear of a songwriter named Joni Mitchell?” And he sang to me—

Pickle jars and foreign cars
The sun is setting here on Mars.
The saffron in the consommé
God, I love a rainy day
It’s raining on the jungle gyms
The tile roofs and spreading limbs
What can I say?
Just one more lonely lady in LA.

“How can you leave us in the hands of Tony Crossandotti?” I said. “The man is a beast. He doesn’t understand writers.”

“Neither do I,” said Mr. Shawn. “You, for example. You don’t learn from experience, Wyler. You’re a guy who’s capable of singing his song and doing his dance but you go crashing around trying to be all things to all people—and then suddenly you can’t write anymore. Big surprise.

“Anyway, I’m done with it. Meeting Joni changed everything. Life is too short to spend it trying to protect the inept from the insensitive. She and I are going to make a beautiful life in Topanga Canyon and enjoy the dappled foliage and the flickering shadows and water running over rocks, and you knuckleheads can edit yourselves.” He drained his cup of whiskey and grinned and shook my hand. “Go home, Wyler. New York is too rough for you. Go back to Minnesota. And learn how to fish.”

Updike’s office was packed with staff members when I got there and I had to squeeze in between Trillin and Salinger, who were perched on the windowsill.

“Here’s the situation,” said a lady with long braids who I think was Penelope Gilliatt or else it was Veronica Geng. “Crossandotti told Shawn that there were too many short stories in the magazine in which people take trains. Or they come back from Ireland and sit and recall a conversation they had with somebody in County Sligo. Somebody on a train. ‘Train travel is dead in this country,’ he tells Shawn. ‘And what’s the big deal about Ireland? You need more stories in which people fish and hunt and get laid.’ So Crossandotti is replacing Shawn with a guy from Field and Stream.”

“How can he do this?” said Trillin. “Even for a publisher, this is insane.”

The lady laughed. “Publishers care about writing the way bears care about butterflies.”

“What in God’s name can we do?” said Powers. “We’re screwed. Might as well move to Ireland.”

Pauline Kael looked slowly around the room. “Imagine this as a movie,” she said. “You’ve got yourself a peaceful little town and this gangster moves in and pushes people around to see how far he can go. And then somebody comes in and sizes up the situation and walks across 44th Street and faces the bully down. And somebody in this room is that person.” She looked at me. So did Updike.

“Well, shoot,” I said. “It sure seems to me that we can’t sit by and let this fella wreck a great American magazine like The New Yorker.”

Updike said, “We’ve taken a vote, Mr. Keillor, and decided you’re the shooter. The rest of us have books coming out, lecture tours, awards to receive — you seem to be going through a dry spell. Maybe homicide can help. There’s a pistol in your desk. Head over to the Algonquin and when he’s not looking, perforate him two or three times. Being a tall person, you can get a good angle. Aim for vital organs. If you’re caught, the rest of us will testify that you were under horrible stress and that you simply snapped. You’ll spend a year or two in a mental hospital and be released and you’ll have material for a best-seller.”

How could I say no?

When I got to my office to pick up the gun, there was a note on my door:

Keillor: Understand you drew the assignment to shoot yrs truly. Well, I’m waiting, Mr Numb Nuts. So write out your Last Will and Testament and leave it on your chair where the mourners can find it and don’t worry about putting on clean underwear. It ain’t going to be clean for long. Tony

Updike stuck his head in my door to see how I was and I said I was fine. I was filling my mind with murderous thoughts and preparing to do the deed.

“Don’t screw this up. It’s extremely important. Everybody at The New Yorker is counting on you. American literature is counting on you. J.D. McClatchy at the Academy of Arts and Letters called to wish you well. Philip Roth wants you to whack this bastard and so does Edward Hoagland. And Michiko Kakutani from the Times.

“Miss Kakutani called? About me?”


“Consider the trigger pulled,” I said.

“We don’t want to open up The New Yorker someday and find a photograph of two guys in a boat on Lake Mille Lacs holding up a stringer of walleyes, do we?”

“No, sir.”

“The magazine that was home to Edmund Wilson and Richard Rovere, telling people what kind of bait to use for rock bass?”

I promised to do what I said I’d do. I said, “After I kill him, could I possibly call you John? If the answer is no, I would certainly understand, but I’d love to be able to do that.”

“Yes,” he said. “Certainly.”

And so I stood up, cheeks burning, and crossed 44th Street and walked into the Algonquin, where the lobby was empty except for Tony Crossandotti sitting in a wingback chair near the door to the Oak Room surrounded by six empty beer bottles and a pile of pistachio shells on the floor. He had just sprayed himself with cologne and slicked back his hair. He stood up. “Mr. Keillor,” he said. It was right then, facing him ten feet away, I realized I’d forgotten my pistol in my desk drawer.

“I was afraid you had gotten engrossed in a long book,” he said. He looked me over. “You have broccoli on your lapel,” he said. He brushed it away with a pinkie. “How long you been going around with broccoli on your lapel? I would think someone would point this out.”

“You just did,” I said, “and I’m grateful. I wouldn’t expect an asshole like you to take an interest in my personal grooming.”

“I don’t think I heard you clearly.” His breath was very rank. It reeked of beer and pistachios and something else — actually, it smelled of blood.

“Assholes like you, Mr. Crossandotti. People who take a good magazine and beat the shit out of it.”

“Let me give you a word of advice,” he said. “You maybe shouldn’t have come here, seeing as you’re so upset. You maybe should’ve headed over to France on a Guggenheim for a couple years. You could easily get yourself shot in the ear hole for saying things like that. Not by me. I’m a pussycat. But maybe some person loyal to me might hear about what you just said and come after you and blow a hole in your skull.” There was an odd vibrato in his voice, a sort of throbbing in the pineal gland.

“What I’m going to do for you,” he said, tapping me on the chest, “is teach you about gun safety.”

I said, “Mr. Crossandotti, what you’re going to do is leave The New Yorker alone. It’s a great American institution. So tell your Field & Stream guy to go sit on his thumb and find somebody smart to edit the magazine.”

“Hey. Thanks for the opinion. But I’m concerned about you. Let me demonstrate the workings of a pistol and give you a tip or two about firearm safety. Let us step into the Oak Room so as not to alarm the tourists.”

The lobby was deserted except for a man and a woman, English majors by the looks of them, stealing a few coasters for souvenirs.

“Fuck off!” Tony yelled. “Or I’ll rip the lungs out of your chests. Hers first.” They flapped away like startled pigeons.

I said, “Right after you teach me about gun safety, I’ll call up the Times and inform them that you are taking a well-deserved sabbatical in Weehawken and that you’ve agreed to let the staff of The New Yorker elect a new editor.”

“Hey. I appreciate your interest, Keillor. All what you know about publishing would about fit in a cockroach’s left nostril, but never mind. Come this way and let me show you how to wrest a .45 revolver away from a crazed attacker.”

He grabbed my sleeve and started to pull me toward the Oak Room. He was pretty riled and that was my plan, insofar as I had one — to infuriate him until he was frothing at the mouth and pissing his pants and then—do something sudden and violent and unexpected like shoving my forefinger in his eye socket. Or tripping him. Or maybe a sharp blow to the nose with the heel of the hand, driving the nasal bone into the frontal lobe and causing extreme disorientation and then death. I had a number of possibilities in mind.

He towed me into the Oak Room and pulled out his pistol and aimed it at the ceiling and said, “The first lesson in how to deal with a guy who is stronger than you and smarter than you and who is just about to blow a big hole in your ear is not to let yourself be drawn into the type of situation where it’s you and him alone in a room with no other people, okay? That’s the thing you want to avoid.”

“Got it,” I said.

“Number two: don’t attempt to distract him with a sudden move or coughing fit or that old trick of looking over his shoulder and saying, ‘Hi, Jim!’—that works in cartoons, it doesn’t work in real life. Number three: don’t have illusions about your own strength. Some guys, from having watched Alan Ladd movies, get the idea that they could hurl themselves at somebody and knock him to the floor. In your case, this just fucking ain’t gonna happen. It would be like a parakeet hurling itself at a late-model Chevrolet. Strictly unproductive in the larger scheme of things.”

He was about to get to No. 4 when a man walks in with a big Leica around his neck and says, “Is this the room where Dorothy Parker and Benchley and Woollcott and George Kaufman and Marc Connelly and Harpo Marx and Edna Ferber and their friends used to gather for the famous Algonquin Round Table? Which table was that, exactly? I’ve read so much about them and their witty bon mots and how much Harold Ross admired them but it was he, the roughneck from Colorado, who started The New Yorker and those great wits are largely forgotten today.” And Tony yells, “Who gives a fuck! Get your ass out of here or I’ll blow it off you one cheek at a time.”

The guy says, “I’m sorry, but are you talking to me?”

“Get your ass out of here, I said.”

“We came all the way from Minnesota to see the Round Table. Is that a problem? Is now not a good time?”

Tony yells, “Get the hell out!”

“I’m sorry” the guy says. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I just came in to take a picture. We’re New Yorker readers, going back years and years. My gosh, I grew up with the magazine. A big fan of A.J. Liebling and Wolcott Gibbs and Frank Sullivan. And I loved Benchley. And all of them.” And then he recognized me. “Aren’t you an author yourself?” he said.

“Yes, I’m Garrison Keillor,” I said. “I’m from Minnesota as well.”

“Right,” he said. “You used to do that radio show. What was it called? We used to listen to it sometimes.” He turned to ask his wife, but she was gone.

Tony held up the gun so the guy could see it. “This ain’t some book club or discussion group you walked into, this is a gangland-style execution. This is something you definitely don’t want to be a witness to because if you are, I would need to blow you away too. You hear me?”

“I loved when you used to tell stories about that little town, Lake Wabasso or whatever it was,” the guy said. “I grew up on a farm near Morris. You ever get out that way?”

“Not as often as I’d like. I wish I were there right now”

Tony is miffed. He stamps his foot.

“Hey,” he says. “You ever hear of the fucking Mafia?”

The guy said he had seen The Godfather, the first one, but thought the book was better.

“Brando was good and Duvall, but the rest of it was a piece of crap,” says Tony. “Only guy who can write about that stuff is Elmore Leonard.”

“Is he an actor?”

“Elmore Leonard?” Tony looks at me. “I cannot believe this yahoo never heard of Elmore Leonard.”

“Does he write for The New Yorker?” the guy said.

“You never heard of Elmore Leonard? You’re bullshitting me.”

Tony was saying something in Italian that sounded like a curse for when somebody spits in your mother’s tomato sauce. Either that, or a recipe for ground glass. And he was poking the gun in the guy’s ribs.

“Hey,” the guy said. “I can take a hint. Don’t get all hot and bothered. I can come back another time. We’re here for the whole week. I apologize for the trouble. Have a nice day, okay?”

And that was when I killed Tony, when the man said, “Have a nice day, okay?” Tony sort of lost control of himself at that point. He threw his head back and snarled and his arm twitched, and I grabbed the wrist of his gun hand and he yanked with all his strength and in the process pulled the gun down and shot himself in the forehead. The room goes boom and Tony falls down like a load of fresh sod and the guy says, “What happened to him?”

I said, “He tripped on a wrinkle in the carpet. It happens all the time.”

“Is he all right?”

“He’s better than he’s been in a long time. He’s resting now let’s tiptoe out and leave him to his thoughts.”

And Tony opens one red eye and says, “You’ll never write for my magazine again, Mr. Keillor.”

I tried to think of a witty retort—Oh? Really? Who died and made you editor?—and his head rolled to one side and he was out of here, he’d left the building. A powerful publishing tycoon murdered by a second-rate writer. Accidental, in a way, but in another way, quite deliberate. I certainly had homicide in mind when I entered the Algonquin, but the manner in which it happened was unintended so probably it’d be second- or third-degree manslaughter. My defense lawyer would argue that Tony, in resisting my attempt to disarm him, had caused his own demise, and the jury would deliberate for ten minutes and I’d go scot-free and soon thereafter would be waylaid by a van full of shooters and my bullet-riddled body lie on 90th Street, with punctured containers of chicken salad and tabouli strewn from hell to breakfast.

“Should we call an ambulance?” the guy says.

“The hotel will take care of it.”

I leaned down and opened Tony’s jacket and got a roll of bills out of his breast pocket. No sense leaving it for the cops. “Just making sure he’s got cab money,” I say to the guy. I’d never seen ten-thousand-dollar bills before. I didn’t know Reagan’s picture was on them. “I sure never expected something like this,” the guy says to his wife, and then remembered she wasn’t there, so he went to look for her.

The money came to $128,656. I stuck it in my pocket and thought to myself, This whole thing would make a good story, except I’d change it and make the murder more deliberate. I’d have the writer struggle with the tycoon and trip him and the tycoon’s noggin would bonk the leg of the sideboard and the tycoon eyes glaze and the writer snatch up the pistol and kill him. Or hold him until the cops arrive. Or maybe kill him, but with a fork. And I wouldn’t have me be a writer. Maybe a choreographer or composer. A more lethal line of work.

I walked out through the lobby. A bellman had locked the front door and pulled the drapes, and waiters had put up partitions to shield the brunch crowd in the Rose Room. A man in a black suit got off the elevator pushing a wheelbarrow He went in and got Tony and covered him with a tablecloth and wheeled him out to the curb and laid him in the backseat of a taxi and gave the cabbie some bills and away he went. The janitor tore up the carpet Tony died on and laid a black rug there and set a table on the rug. The place was back in business in ten minutes. That’s New York for you. When we die, we leave a hole behind that it takes them less than half an hour to fill. I turned left on 44th Street past the man with the sign FORMER NEW YORKER WRITER DOWN ON LUCK and I dropped $40 in his lap. I felt good. While I as a Christian am opposed to homicide, nonetheless the death of Tony Crossandotti was for the good of journalism. The New Yorker would live on, thanks to me. But I would have to leave New York. Publishing tycoons would be gunning for me after I offed one of their own and I’d be safer in St. Paul because New Yorkers are not sure exactly where it is. They keep getting it mixed up with Omaha.

So R.I.P. Tony Crossandotti. Good-bye to Manhattan and 25 West 43rd. Goodbye, Rainbow Room and Tower Records and H&H Bagels and Scribner’s beautiful bookstore on Fifth Avenue with the wrought-iron railing around the balcony. Goodbye to all that. I return to Minnesota, home of humorous, charitable, modest, soft-spoken people. A state on the same longitude as Italy, with the same slant of light that moved Raphael and Michelangelo illuminating our trees in the afternoon. A state of passionate hockey teams and world-class choirs where, God willing, I shall gain some clarity and lead a happy productive life.

The pleasure of running into Stan on Sunday

I stopped in a cafe on Sunday after church to get awakened from a feeling of blessedness and who should I run into but my Anoka High School gym teacher Stan Nelson, who is 99 years old and still talking and making sense. He looked at me and said, “Are you still having trouble with chin-ups and the rope climb?” I was 17 at the time and now I’m 76, and I told him that I’ve managed to stay out of situations that might require me to climb a rope or lift myself up by a horizontal bar, so the answer is, No, it’s no trouble at all.

“You’re looking good,” he said. He’s looking good too, hearty and keen, as if 99 is what he was aiming for all along. “You flunked the physical for football, didn’t you,” he said. I said, “Yes. Heart valve. They fixed it in 2001.” I opened my shirt and showed him the surgical scar on my sternum. He said he didn’t think I would’ve liked football anyway. I agreed with him about that.

It made me happy to see a man of 99 enjoying his life. It puts everything else into perspective, all the mopey poetry I wrote in college, the long single-spaced anguished letters written to friends under the influence of Kafka and Kierkegaard. Self-conscious misery is for the young; old age is the time to cheer up.

I was brought up by people who went through the Great Depression and the war and who told me how hard life could be and I matriculated into prosperous times when I put myself through college working part-time in the scullery and could still have a beer now and then. I’ve been independent ever since. I never confided my problems to anybody; I just let them go unexpressed and eventually they blew away like dry leaves. Or they became quirks. I was lucky. I married well. I got my heart sewn up by a surgeon and now I’m older than most of my aunts and uncles. I went to church and was forgiven and took Communion and now my old gym teacher is pleased to see me.

Minneapolis is near where I grew up on the Mississippi. The city has risen, spread, renovated, beautified itself since I was a boy — the old factories and warehouses are now expensive condos — and it’s lovely to walk around the old hometown, one foot in the past, while looking at the unimaginable present, the enormous towers, the male couples, the young women checking their cellphones, the ordinariness of being among people of color: that didn’t exist back then.

I’m at peace with all of it and a great deal more. The children of my friends are engaged in good works, trying to help people addicted to opioids and heroin whose lives have fallen apart, who live in ragged encampments, desperate families with small children, a scene of wretchedness out of Dickens’s Oliver Twist in the midst of my prospering city. I admire the doers of good works. I worry that they’ll forget to go to the state fair and ride the Ferris wheel in the dark and laugh and enjoy their cheese curds.

Life is good. Power and influence are illusory. Rich people often get lousy health care. Doctors don’t give thorough digital prostate exams to CEOs. Famous people are more likely to die in stupid accidents because their handlers are afraid to say, “Stop. That’s crazy.”

We live in treacherous times but so did Thomas Keillor who survived the five week voyage from Yorkshire in 1774 and my ancestor Prudence Crandall who got booted out of Connecticut in 1831 for admitting young women of color to her school and so she fled to Kansas where she campaigned for women’s suffrage. She was a Methodist. I like to imagine her sitting on a porch in Kansas, writing fierce polemics against male supremacy and the racist killjoys who blight the landscape, and at the same time enjoying the music of meadowlarks and the taste of tomatoes eaten off the vine and the pleasure of shade in the midst of brilliance. To change the world, you must start out by loving it. It’s fine to march but don’t forget to dance. The Lord is gracious. Come unto his gates with thanksgiving. In other words, get over yourself. It isn’t about you. Grab the rope and pull yourself up. Try. Try again.

When I consider how my time is spent

A mockingbird couple has set up housekeeping in a tree in our backyard and the male goes crazy whenever we set foot in his territory, which I guess means that their children have hatched and are at that perilous point in life when you’re about to fly. When we slip out back for supper, he shrieks at us from the corner of the yard, far from the nest, and flies from branch to branch to fence, cursing us, threatening to peck our eyes out. He’s a good father. The mother stays on the nest and he exercises his toxic mockingbird masculinity and yells bloody murder.

It’s been a week of blissful summer weather and so we sit back there evenings, sometimes mornings, especially now that our own fledgling has flown off to summer camp. She tried to hide it but she was eager to leave and we’ve not heard a word from her since. She’s a sociable kid, a busybody, a member of the gang, who loves drama, and life at home as an only child is much too sedate. To be the daughter of a writer means hanging around a silent inert parent who is of less interest than a scarecrow. Camp means swimming, hiking, gardening, camping with a gaggle of equals. There’s no comparison.

Once in a blue moon, she calls. If we text her, she responds with a word or two. I’ve given her several postcards, stamped, addressed to me, which is a joke. The chance of her writing a postcard to her father is zero to minus. She and I hug when she’s home and sometimes she walks over to my laptop and says, “Make me laugh,” so I do. She and I share a keen sense of humor involving bodily functions and I know her vulnerabilities and though she folds her arms and looks very stern, I can make her fall apart. Her mother handles discipline, hygiene, manners, and education, and my department is comedy.

I miss her and at the same time I’m grateful that she finds pleasure elsewhere. Meanwhile, a tiny feathered father is yelling at me to stay away from his kids or else face death.

My love and I sit at a table in the shade of a tree and pick at our summer salads, gorgeous tomatoes and cucumbers, greens, chopped peppers and onions, anointed with oil and vinegar, and we carry on the conversation that is at the heart of any happy marriage. We met thirty years ago, a lunch date, and I was taken by the fact that she was funny and concise and never at a loss for words, which is still true. I am an old man now and she somehow remains 35, same as then. I experience sudden gaps in memory, like walking along a sidewalk and suddenly a ditch appears, when I can’t come up with the word for old-age confusion — dentistry — diminution — sensual — pretension — and have to slip-slide around it, and she ignores this and leads the conversation onto solid ground.

I could go on living like this for a long long time, two people under a tree in a backyard, watched over by a ferocious bird, waiting for our child to call. When she does, often it is only for a minute: we hear girl talk in the background and laughter and then she says, “Can I call you back later?” and we say yes and she’s gone. Life is good. Of course disaster can strike at any time — last week we had supper with a friend who described a visit to a park where she tripped on a curb and had to go to the ER and wound up spending two weeks in the hospital for reconstruction — and I am aware of that though I choose not to discuss it over salads. I am aware of a whole string of beloved relatives and friends who are gone because they were born too early to be able to enjoy the medical advances that would’ve enabled them to live longer. I miss them and I try to live up to their example of fidelity and humor and kindness.

I’m glad we traveled to Portugal in June and I am looking forward to baseball in July and the return of our daughter in August, but this is the good life as I know it, a day of work followed by a conversation with my lover in the shade of the backyard, feasting on salad, and speaking quietly to a fellow father, assuring him that I intend no harm. That’s my goal right now. No harm.



Life, liberty, dancing, feasting, hugging, and collecting stuff

I have returned from a week in Portugal and a little village where we attended our nephew’s wedding and enjoyed lavish feasting and shameless dancing and people hugging each other left and right. There was liquor involved but mostly it sprang from lack of self-consciousness. Everybody knew each other except for us Americanos; there was nothing to hide. After the wedding, I saw men hugging other men, if you can believe such a thing. The father of the bride hugged the groom and squeezed him hard.

I’m from Minnesota. I associate male hugging with pickpockets. I don’t recall ever hugging or being hugged by another person of the male persuasion. My people shook hands. We were cautious people and didn’t want to be thought “too forward.”

The feast and dance took place at the bride’s parents’ farmhouse and I noticed the great freedom that her father enjoyed in his enormous garage. Several motorcycles in stages of repair, tractor parts, many gizmos and whatchamacallits around in no apparent order. Antique clocks and tools, implements, machine parts, tchotchkes, buckets of miscellaneous bolts and screws. Also a good deal of junk.

All of this was attractive to me. And so when I came back to America and watched the Democratic debates, I was looking for a candidate who would open the door to feasting and dancing and hugging and the basic freedom of owning stuff for which there is no good explanation. I don’t see Biden or Sanders or Warren or Harris as being that candidate. They all stayed behind their lecterns.

And so I come, for the umpteenth time in my life, to realize how irrelevant politics is to happiness.

Nobody wants to hear this, but I’ll say it anyway: the Current Occupant hasn’t changed much. He’s ridden along on a wave of prosperity that began during the Obama years and he’s issued thousands of twitters and scowled and threatened and called people names and he’s shown great cruelty to people who can’t vote, but when it comes right down to it, the daily weather forecast matters far more than anything he does in Washington.

As we descend into the 2020 presidential campaign, the very number 2020 reminding us to seek Clear Sharp Vision, let us agree that the importance of the presidency is greatly exaggerated. The office gets so much attention because journalists are lazy and it’s easier to write about one guy than to, say, spend six months in Iowa and write about American agriculture. Woodward and Bernstein didn’t get into the movies played by Redford and Hoffman by writing about corn and soybeans. But the effect of Watergate on the lives of Americans was less than that of a solar eclipse.

No president can make America great. God is the judge of greatness, and meanwhile the challenge is to educate children, do business, feed and doctor people, preserve farmland and wilderness, deal with the real world, look for the least worst outcome.

The guy who affected my life most was LBJ, whose Vietnam War obsessed me in my 20s and whose Medicare is a lovely benefit in my 70s. In between, there was Nixon whom we liberals loathed for reasons I can’t recall and Gerald Ford who pardoned him and thereby was defeated by the Georgia Sunday school teacher. The movie actor I remember for his affable Irish mug but don’t ask me to write 500 words about Iran-Contra because I can’t and neither can you. Then came the Ivy League Texan and the last of the Arkansas liberals and Dubya who tried so hard to be presidential and then our first Kenyan president and now this New Yawk showman who has the distinction of being the first man elected to the office by being an out-and-out jerk and mooning the media and giving the stinky finger to whoever irks him and yet what has he done other than offend most Americans? Not that much.

Most of the real damage done by presidents falls on distant lands while life in these States keeps chugging along and so when I look at the Democrats in the race and ask whom I favor, I say, “Anybody who doesn’t wear a ducktail and who attends church now and then and doesn’t blather.” We need a new story. And now I’m going to take my wife by the hand and walk down the street and find a café with a table under an umbrella and order salad and an iced tea and enjoy some conversation about the future. That’s where happiness lies, out in front of us.

APHC cruise 2020 logo


Aboard the ms Veendam
March 18–25, 2020

Letter from Garrison





Note: Some of you may have heard rumors that U.S. citizens will no longer be able to visit Cuba by the time the ms Veendam sets sail. Please know that at this moment, we are fully planning to keep Cuba on the itinerary, but that we have backup options as well. In the event that the itinerary changes, reservations will not be canceled or refunded.

6/20/2019 UPDATE: Cuba must be removed from our itinerary. U.S. travel to Cuba for tourist activities is now banned by the U.S. government.


Dear Prairie Home Cruisers,

It was a long hard winter in Minnesota, and I am in a mood for warmth and pleasure next winter and that will be The 12th Prairie Home Cruise, a one-week jaunt from Fort Lauderdale with stops at Jamaica, Cozumel, the Cayman Islands, and Key West, sailing March 18, 2020.

All a person needs to get through the blizzards and darkness is a bright light on the horizon — a candle in the window — and so, next winter, I will dream of March 18, the flight to Fort Lauderdale, the surprise at seeing sunshine, green plants, people in shorts and T-shirts.

And then the cruise!!!

Rob Fisher and his 10-piece Coffee Club Orchestra will perform for your dancing pleasure. The amazing jazz singer Nellie McKay is coming, a powerful pianist and ukulelist. Gospel will be represented by Jearlyn Steele. Pat Donohue will join us, as will Dakota Dave Hull, a veteran of early PHC days who is in all-time top form. Robin and Linda Williams are on board. Heather Masse is coming, and Christine DiGiallonardo so Brooklyn will be represented. Maria Jette and Vern Sutton will sing from the piano bench tropical hits such as “Bésame Mucho” and “Perfidia.” Of course our acting company of Sue Scott, Tim Russell, and Fred Newman will be there, and thanks to them, Dusty and Lefty will ride the plains and Guy Noir will scour the back alleys and Mom and Duane and Ruth Harrison, Reference Librarian. Rich Dworsky and the Guys All-Star Shoe Band will support all of this and I will be there, as well. Talking about Lake Wobegon, coffee, rhubarb pie, reminiscing about early radio days. Doing poetry. Emceeing the story hours. Writing limericks for guests who win the limerick lottery. And singing with Heather and Christine, Robin and Linda.

If this cruise is as much fun as I expect it to be, maybe we’ll do another. As Emily Dickinson wrote:

Wild nights — Wild nights! Were I with thee
Wild nights at sea! With PHC!
Off to Jamaica! Freely we go!
Peel that banana! Let’s do a show.
Winter, goodbye!
Minnesota, New York!
Hello, Miss McKay
And the Coffee Club Orch.

Keep in touch,

See EMI’s website for cabin pricing

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See EMI’s website for cabin pricing

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As on previous cruises, guests will have the opportunity to enjoy music performances, lectures, and nature viewing in multiple locations. We’ll gather at the Mainstage for live A Prairie Home Companion shows followed by dancing with the Coffee Club Orchestra, the Crow’s Nest for early morning singing and late-night dancing, and the Wajang Theater for lectures. Guests can catch live music sets in intimate settings such as the Ocean Bar and bring acoustic instruments to picking sessions at the Explorer’s Lounge. Of course, bird-watching will take place ­­on the decks!

Dan Chouinard

Dan Chouinard is a St. Paul-based honky-tonk pianist, concert soloist and accompanist, street accordionist, sing-along enabler, Italian and French teacher, and bicycling vagabond. He’s been commissioned to write and host a number of live programs blending history, memoir, and music for broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television. He played on a dozen live broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companion and served as rehearsal pianist for Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, and Lindsay Lohan during the making of the 2006 Robert Altman film of the same name.

The Coffee Club Orchestra

The Coffee Club Orchestra sprang into existence in the fall of 1989 when Garrison Keillor asked musical director Rob Fisher to put together a group for his radio show. Chosen for their breadth of experience and their versatility, the Coffee Club musicians delighted public radio listeners with their rambunctious renditions. Rob Fisher and the Coffee Club Orchestra have since appeared on many of New York’s stages, from the plaza at Lincoln Center to City Center’s Encores! series. Their album of Depression-era popular music, Shaking the Blues Away, was released on EMI/Angel in 1992. They can also be heard on Kristin Chenoweth’s debut album, Let Yourself Go.

Christine DiGiallonardo

DiGiallonardo photo

New York-based vocalist Christine DiGiallonardo is at home singing in early-music chamber ensembles as well as jazz and rock bands. She has performed in New York City Center’s Encores! productions of High Button Shoes, Me And My Girl, Brigadoon, The New Yorkers,Annie Get Your Gun, Lady, Be Good!, On Your Toes, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Fiorello! She also performs solo and with her sisters, Daniela and Nadia, as The DiGiallonardo Sisters, and her voice can be heard on commercial jingles for Aquafresh, Mr. Clean, Playtex, and Febreze. 

Pat Donohue

Donohue photo

Grammy-winning fingerpicker and songwriter Pat Donohue has a devotion to acoustic guitar that has made him an American standard, as he echoes the tones of Robert Johnson, Blind Blake, Charlie Parker, Muddy Waters, and Chet Atkins. A versatile guitarist’s guitarist, he wows fans with intricate fingerpicking, easy wit, and nimble interpretations of old blues, swing, R&B, and original tunes. For over 20 years, Pat was lead guitar and songwriter for A Prairie Home Companion’s Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band. He now tours the U.S., playing performance halls, clubs and coffeehouses, conducts workshops, and teaches at prestigious guitar camps.

Richard Dworsky

Dworsky photo

For 23 years, Richard Dworsky served as pianist and music director for Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, providing original theatrical underscoring, leading the house band, and performing as a featured soloist. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native also accompanied many of the show’s guests, including James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Yo-Yo Ma, Sheryl Crow, Chet Atkins, Renée Fleming, and Kristin Chenoweth. Rich’s original compositions for piano (and piano with ensemble or vocal) can be heard on his CDs All In Due TimeSo Near and Dear to Me, and The Path to You

Rob Fisher

Fisher photo

For four seasons, Rob Fisher served as APHC’s music director and led the Coffee Club Orchestra. An internationally recognized music director, conductor, and pianist, and a leading figure in musical theater, he has been a guest of every major orchestra in the country as conductor or pianist. With the New York Philharmonic, Fisher conducted the acclaimed concert versions of Carousel (Emmy nomination for Best Music Director) and My Fair Lady, as well as Mr. Keillor at 70. For his work on the Tony Award-winning Encores! series at New York’s City Center, he was presented the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Special Achievement.

Dakota Dave Hull

Hull photo

Fargo native Dakota Dave Hull calls what he does “classic American guitar.” Hailed by everyone from Dave Van Ronk to Doc Watson, from the Washington Post to DownBeat magazine, his style spans a wide musical geography to create an infectious, uniquely personal blend of jazz, ragtime, folk, blues, Western swing, and vintage pop. He is a restlessly curious, adventurous traveler along the broad highway of America’s music. Most of all, his music is great fun. As Douglas Green (Ranger Doug of Riders in the Sky) puts it, “There is an imp within Dave Hull that always expresses itself on the fretboard.” His recent albums include his Sacred and Profane set, Heavenly Hope and This Earthly Life (Arabica Records).

Maria Jette

Jette photo

Versatile soprano Maria Jette was a frequent performer on A Prairie Home Companion. She can sing dozens of operatic roles; she also performs pop songs, chamber music, oratorio, and show tunes. Maria spent a decade singing with the Twin Cities Baroque opera company Ex Machina, and has appeared with orchestras nationwide, including the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, New York Chamber Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Minnesota Orchestra.Among her recordings is The Siren’s Song: Wodehouse and Kern on Broadway, her second volume of P.G. Wodehouse songs, both with pianist Dan Chouinard.

Larry Kohut

Kohut photo

Bassist for Prairie Home Companion’s house band, Larry Kohut is equally fluent on both upright and electric bass. He’s a first-call studio musician as well as a favorite with jazz musicians, playing with artists such as Kenny Werner, Ramsey Lewis, Bruce Barth, Benny Golson, Michael Brecker, George Coleman, George Garzone, Phil Woods, Chris Potter, Kurt Elling, Karrin Allyson, Patricia Barber — and the list goes on. His discography includes more than 100 albums, as well as several major movie soundtracks and hundreds of commercial jingles.

Richard Kriehn

Kriehn photo

When Richard Kriehn turned 10, his mom bought him a mandolin; at 19, he’d won the Buck White International Mandolin Contest. He went on to play with the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble and bluegrass group 1946. On the classical side, he has performed with numerous orchestras and was principal second violin for the Washington/Idaho Symphony. He first appeared on A Prairie Home Companion in 2006, when the show broadcast from Washington State University, where Richard had just completed a master’s degree in violin performance and conducting. A few years later, he was a fully established member of the APHC house band.

Heather Masse

Masse photo

Trained at the New England Conservatory of Music as a jazz singer, Heather Masse is equally versed in a variety of American song traditions — folk, pop, and bluegrass. A member of Billboard-charting folk group The Wailin’ Jennys, she has performed at hundreds of venues across the world. She was a frequent guest on A Prairie Home Companion, both with The Jennys and as a solo performer, and collaborated with artists such as Elvis Costello, Wynton Marsalis, Sheryl Crow, Renée Fleming, and Emmylou Harris. Her recordings include August Love Song — on which she joins forces with trombone great Roswell Rudd.

Nelly McKay

McKay photo

Nellie McKay has released a stack of acclaimed albums, among them: Sister Orchid, My Weekly Reader, and Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day. She won a Theatre World Award for her portrayal of Polly Peachum on Broadway in The Threepenny Opera and performed onscreen in the films P.S. I Love You and Downtown Express.She co-created and starred in the award-winning off-Broadway hit Old Hats and has written several musical biographies, including A Girl Named Bill: The Life and Times of Billy Tipton, and The Big Molinsky: Considering Joan Rivers.

Joe Newberry

Newberry photo

Known worldwide for his exquisite clawhammer banjo playing, Joe Newberry is also a powerful guitarist, singer, and songwriter. The Missouri native was raised in a family full of singers and dancers. He took up guitar and banjo as a teenager and learned fiddle tunes from great Missouri fiddlers. After moving to North Carolina, he quickly became an anchor of the incredible music scene there. The Gibson Brothers’ version of Joe’s song “Singing As We Rise,” featuring guest vocalist Ricky Skaggs, won the 2012 IBMA Gospel Recorded Performance Award. With Eric Gibson, he shared the 2013 IBMA Song of the Year Award for “They Called It Music.”

Fred Newman

Newman photo

Fred Newman is an actor, writer, musician, and sound designer for stage and screen, cartoon and concert hall. For nearly two decades, he added myriad sounds to A Prairie Home Companion. Originally from small-town Georgia, he worked with Jim Henson and created sounds, voices, and music for the Nickelodeon cartoon series DOUG, PBS’s Between the Lions, and films like Gremlins, Cocoon, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? He even created the sound of Old Faithful for Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Visitor Center — all with his mouth. Author of MouthSounds, he’s now at work on a new book and series: From the Sound Up (The New Anthropology of Sound).

Tim Russell

Russell photo

Tim Russell worked on-air for WCCO Radio in the Twin Cities for some 33 years. In 1994, he became an actor on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion until the fall of 2018. The CD Tim Russell: Man of a Thousand Voices (HighBridge Audio) is a collection of his work on APHC. Tim is still a man of many voices and a proud SAG-AFTRA Voiceover Artist. He appeared in the Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion, in the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, and opposite Christopher Lloyd in I Am Not a Serial Killer. Tim is also a film critic on his blog,

Sue Scott

Scott photo

After enjoying 24 years as the female cast member on A Prairie Home Companion, Sue Scott has rejoined the vibrant Twin Cities theater community. She recently appeared in Barbecue at Mixed Blood Theatre, Little Wars with Prime Productions, and in the sold-out run of Sisters of Peace at the History Theatre in St. Paul. A veteran voice-over talent, Sue has also been cast in some interesting roles in film and television: ABC’s In An Instant and the Netflix series Lady Dynamite. In addition, she is immersed in creating and producing her new podcast, Island of Discarded Women. 

Chris Siebold

Siebold photo

Chicago-based guitarist, singer-songwriter, composer, and arranger Chris Siebold leads his own bands — Lennon’s Tuba and Psycles — and collaborates often with Grammy-winning harmonica player Howard Levy. House guitarist for the last two seasons of A Prairie Home Companion, Chris joined Garrison Keillor and company for the “America the Beautiful” and “Love and Comedy” tours. This is his fourth appearance on an APHC Cruise. Chris lives in Batavia, Illinois, with his four-year-old son, Julian.

Billy Steele

Steele, Billy photo

Youngest of the Steele siblings, Billy Steele, performs, writes, produces, and serves as assistant director for the Grammy-winning Sounds of Blackness. He writes and produces for various other artists as well, including the Steeles, and his voice has been heard on soundtracks with the likes of Rod Stewart and Luther Vandross. Recently, he collaborated on the Disney soundtrack Legends, The John Henry Story, narrated by James Earl Jones. Billy is the musical director for Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Jearlyn Steele

Steele Jearlyn photo

Growing up in Indiana, Jearlyn Steele sang with her siblings as The Steele Children. One by one, they moved to Minnesota and started singing together again. Now music is the family business. She has performed with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, at Carnegie Hall and at the 2018 Super Bowl LIVE Verizon stage. In addition, Jearlyn is a public speaker (the singing speaker, she calls herself), an entertainment reporter for public television, voice-over talent, and host of Steele Talkin’, a Sunday-night radio show that originates on WCCO in Minneapolis. Among her solo CDs is Jearlyn Steele Sings Songs from A Prairie Home Companion.

Vern Sutton

Sutton photo

Vern Sutton has collaborated with major musical organizations as a singer, actor, director, and educator. He was a founding member of the Center Opera Company, which became the Minnesota Opera, and composers Dominick Argento, Robert Ward, Conrad Susa, Stephen Paulus, David Thomas, Libby Larsen, and others have written for his voice. For 36 years, he taught at the University of Minnesota School of Music, and for four summers he was artistic director of Opera in the Ozarks. Vern was a guest on the first broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion and on innumerable shows after that.

April Verch

Verch photo

Growing up surrounded by living, breathing roots music, April Verch thought every little girl learned to stepdance at the age of three and fiddle at the age of six. She decided early on that she’d be a professional musician, and for decades she has been captivating audiences across the globe. From her native Canada to Europe, Australia, China, the United Arab Emirates, and beyond, she has spread a signature sound that blends regional Canadian, American old-time, bluegrass, country, and Americana. In 2019, April released her 12th recording, Once A Day (Slab Town Records), a heartfelt homage to 1950s and ’60s classic country.  

Robin and Linda Williams

Williams photo

For decades, Robin and Linda Williams have made it their mission to perform the music they love: “a robust blend of bluegrass, folk, old-time, and acoustic country that combines wryly observant lyrics with a wide-ranging melodicism.” Today some might call it “Americana,” but these music masters were living and breathing this elixir 20 years before that label became a radio format. The two first appeared on A Prairie Home Companion in 1975, the same year they recorded their first album. In 2013, they released Back 40 — marking 40 years on the road and 40 years of marriage.

Jed Wilson

Wilson photo

A versatile pianist equally at home as an improviser and as an accompanist, Jed Wilson earned a degree in jazz performance from the New England Conservatory of Music and has worked extensively in the worlds of jazz and folk music. In addition to maintaining a long-term collaboration with singer Heather Masse, he has performed or recorded with Aoife O’Donovan, Dominique Eade, and Rushad Eggleston. His most recent recording is a solo piano EP titled Nocturnes.


Aly Busse

Busse photo

Aly Busse is the Vice President for Education at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, a nonprofit research laboratory. She comes from a diverse background in informal science education, including aquariums, museums, and community outreach programs. Before joining Mote Marine Laboratory, Aly was Education Director at UnderWater World, Guam, and Youth and Family Programs Coordinator at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. She also held dual roles at Rutgers University as the Senior Program Coordinator for a science outreach program and Associate Director of the Rutgers Geology Museum. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from the University of North Carolina–Wilmington, a Master of Science in Science Education from Old Dominion University, and is a PhD candidate at the University of South Florida.

Kiley Gray

Gray photo

Originally from Florida, Kiley Gray has always known that marine biology was her passion. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from the University of West Florida, Kiley worked as a fisheries biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. She is currently the Coordinator for Public Programs at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, an independent, nonprofit research laboratory with a public aquarium. In this position, she is responsible for bringing marine science and research to the public through a variety of programs for audiences of all ages and is an instructor for the Florida Master Naturalist program.

Lytton John Musselman

Musselman photo

Lytton John Musselmanearned a Ph.D. in botany from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and was chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where he holds the Mary Payne Hogan Distinguished Professorship of Botany. He established the Blackwater Ecologic Preserve in 1984 and is the Manager of that property. In addition, he has been a consultant for new Qur’anic gardens in Albania, Qatar, and Brunei Darussalam. Lytton is co-author of The Quick Guide to Edible Plants (Johns Hopkins University Press). His other books include 2019’s Parasitic Plants in African Agriculture. Described as a “passionate botanist” by Garrison Keillor, Lytton received the Meritorious Teaching Award from the Association of Southeastern Biologists in 2019.


Jon Wiant

Wiant, Jon photo

Jon Wiant is an authority on intelligence and international affairs. His senior intelligence career spanned the Cold War and the security challenges that followed.  In retirement, this recipient of the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal has taught at Washington universities and is a widely popular cruise and tour lecturer.

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Ocho Rios beach

Ocho Rios, Jamaica 

A lot of history is packed into Ocho Rios, Jamaica — or Ochi, as the locals call it. Christopher Columbus was marooned near this site for more than a year, until a rescue ship finally arrived and the explorer returned to Europe. It was his final voyage. Playwright Noël Coward lived in the vicinity. So did swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn and author Ian Fleming. (Parts of Dr. No, the first James Bond movie, were filmed nearby.) And reggae pioneer Bob Marley was born in this same parish: St. Ann.

The area is a bonanza for nature lovers, featuring scenic hikes, spectacular waterfalls, and sandy beaches. And the area’s cross-cultural cuisine runs the gamut from spicy jerk chicken to the leafy greens of callaloo to ackee with saltfish (the country’s national dish).

George Town image

George Town, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

George Town, the capital of the Cayman Islands, is located on the western shore of Grand Cayman. Here, you’ll settle into just the right tempo for you: prestissimo (very quick) or larghissimo (did someone say sloth?). Enjoy swimming, snorkeling, diving, moseying through lush gardens, hiking through nature, bird-watching, sauntering along the fabled Seven Mile Beach (one of the best in the Caribbean), shopping, or taking in historic sites and the National Museum. Or just plunking down in the sand and daydreaming.

Then let the grazing begin! A melting pot of cuisines and a magnet for top chefs, Grand Cayman has culinary offerings to suit any palate.

Cozumel ruin

Cozumel, Mexico

Twelve miles off the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, the island of Cozumel serves up a visual feast — from the stunning beaches to an array of birds and tropical fish to ancient architectural ruins of the Maya, whose settlements in the area date back to early in the first millennium A.D. Scuba dive or snorkel in the crystal-clear waters. Rent a bicycle and pedal the island’s paved bike path. And leave a little time for shopping — leather goods, Mexican handicrafts, silver, and maybe a brightly colored hammock to doze in back home in your own backyard.


Key West, FL

Key West — the westernmost of the Florida Keys and the southernmost city in the contiguous United States — has a ton of history, culture, and charm packed into a few square miles. John James Audubon, Tennessee Williams, and so many other notables drew inspiration here. Tour historic buildings, including the residence of one of the great American writers of the 20th century: Ernest Hemingway, who called Key West home for more than a decade. (And keep an eye out for those six-toed cats!) Enjoy water- and nature-related activities. Take in the stunning scenery. Sample sumptuous seafood. Soak up the sun. Relax.

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Here you will find answers to the more common questions we have been asked about our cruises. We also address some important issues specific to this cruise.

Before sailing with us, you must read and sign EMI/PHC Terms and Conditions, which spell out important and contractually binding guidelines for our cruise.

We recommend that you visit the Holland America website. You will find extensive and detailed information about sailing on their ships. They have been in the cruise business much longer than we have — please make use of their expertise.

EXECUTIVE MEETINGS and INCENTIVES, INC. (EMI) is your partner in travel. They are your first stop for any help you may need with travel arrangements or any question you may have. See EMI’s website for more information.

YOU MUST HAVE A CURRENT PASSPORT TO SAIL ON THIS CRUISE. Even though this cruise originates and returns to the same domestic port, you must have a passport to sail this cruise. U.S. citizens under the age of 16 may present an alternate government-issued proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Please refer to Holland America’s website for Passport Guidelines.


You must also provide details as to how you plan to transfer to and from the cruise terminal in Fort Lauderdale. This is a Holland America requirement and can be provided during the OLCI (Online Check-In).


We were scheduled for two (2) stops in Cuba — Havana and Cienfuegos, as well as Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and George Town, Cayman Islands. Holland America uses this language in their agreements with passengers: “WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO DEVIATE FROM SCHEDULED ROUTE, CHANGE PORT OF EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION, SUBSTITUTE TRANSPORTATION, CANCEL CRUISE AND ACTIVITIES, AND CHANGE OR OMIT PORTS OF CALL; SUBSTITUTION.” As this change was necessary and the cruise will sail as scheduled March 18–25, 2020, there will be no refunds. Please refer to EMI/PHC Terms and Conditions for more detail.


PRAIRIE HOME CRUISES (PHC) is an independent company that was formed under the umbrella of PRAIRIE GRAND, LLC, for the purpose of chartering cruise vacations. PRAIRIE HOME PRODUCTIONS is the sister company that produces “A Prairie Home Companion” and “The Writer’s Almanac.” PHC is responsible for all changes and additions made to the regularly scheduled HAL cruise. We will provide the APHC performers, entertainers, and lecturers sailing with you.

HOLLAND AMERICA LINES (HAL) operates and manages the Veendam; provides for passenger safety and comfort; and is responsible for your cabin accommodations, food, beverages, recreation, and shopping while on board. Go to Holland America website for more information about life aboard the ship.

EXECUTIVE MEETINGS and INCENTIVES (EMI) is our agent in charge of selling our cruise and booking your accommodations. They will provide you with the highest levels of professional travel-related services. They will book your passage on the ship. EMI will help you with transfers to and from the cruise, cabin selection, and dinner table seating, and will provide guidance for other onboard needs.

For other questions, email us or call EMI’s Prairie Home Cruise number at 908-458-3591.

I. Booking

How much does the cruise cost?
For pricing information, visit EMI’s pricing page. We have cabins in a wide range of prices. You will find that we are offering favorable rates compared to our other cruises, especially when you look at how much we are charging per day.

What types of cabins are on the ship? Where are they located?
There are a wide variety of cabins throughout all levels of the ship. You will always be close to the action on the Veendam. If you are interested in a Verandah cabin, we suggest that you book early, since there are relatively few of these available. See HAL’s Deck Plan for pictures, descriptions, and deck plans.

Is this a different ship than we have sailed before?
For those of you who have traveled with us before, we will be sailing on the original class of ship with the Veendam. We sailed the same ship for a seven-day trip to Alaska in 2006. This ship will feel familiar, since the layout is similar to previous charters we have sailed. You will come aboard and immediately feel at home. Check out the Veendam Deck Plan.

How do I book a cabin? What types are currently available?
For booking information, visit EMI’s pricing page. You will see a list of the currently available cabins. Just click on the one you are interested in.

May I sail only part of this cruise?
Deviations need to be requested in advance of the sailing via EMI. We do need to ensure that you are aware of a few stipulations. As with any travel, cruise guests must comply with all customs and immigration specifics that are applicable to the port in which they embark/debark the vessel, including any additional costs that may be involved at the pier/port to embark/debark the guests. Additionally, while we endeavor to follow our published itinerary, please understand that unplanned circumstances may require that we change or cancel our scheduled call to this port, or otherwise prohibit our ability to honor the deviation request. Should this occur, you as the guest assume all responsibility for any additional costs incurred.

Unfortunately, we are unable to adjust the cruise fare or make a change to individual invoices to manually reflect the shorter cruise segment. Please be advised that because this is not a standard embark/debark port with porters on staff, guests will be responsible for carrying their own luggage off the ship. We regret any inconvenience and appreciate your understanding.

Are wheelchair-accessible rooms available onboard? What about other special needs?
Holland America, PHC, and EMI do not discriminate against persons on the basis of disability. We seek, to the fullest extent feasible, to accommodate guests with special needs. Holland America offers a limited number of staterooms designed to be wheelchair and scooter accessible. Most public areas of the ship are wheelchair accessible; some areas such as the topmost outdoor observation area are not. To learn more about HAL’s options for guests with special needs, see the Shipboard Life section of Holland America Frequently Asked Questions. You can explore the deck plan (Veendam Deck Plan) to see where the wheelchair-accessible rooms are located. Please contact EMI directly at 908-458-3591 to discuss any special needs you may have.

II. Payment/Finances

Is travel insurance necessary?
We strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance. You will be booking this cruise many months before we sail; circumstances can easily change. Insurance is your only recourse for reimbursement in the event of change, delay, or crisis. For more information, see EMI’s pricing page.

What is included in the payment and what will cost extra?
Please refer to EMI/PHC Terms and Conditions page. While on board, you can spend a minimal amount or incur significant charges by the end of the cruise. You will certainly be able to have an enjoyable time no matter how little or how much you spend. Alcoholic beverages, soda, spa services, the casino, and other onboard services are not included in your fare. We do not include airfare, ground transportation, shore excursions, or other off-ship expenses in our fares.

I’m a Holland America stockholder. Can I get a discount on my cruise?
No. This cruise is private and chartered.

I’ve booked my cabin. What’s next?
EMI will confirm your reservation with you electronically and provide an EMI confirmation number they will use to track your reservation. Closer to the cruise, EMI will provide your Holland America booking number and cabin number, which you will use to prepare for your trip to Book Shore Excursions.

How do I check in?
Check-in and preparation for your cruise is an online process that HAL calls Express Docs. All passengers are required to check in using this system in advance of the cruise. You will need your HAL booking number to do this. You will be prompted to accept Holland America Terms and Conditions online. Once this is clicked, the contract is accepted.  All documents necessary for your cruise will be provided online through Express Docs, including your cruise contract and your boarding pass. You will need to print out the boarding pass portion of these documents for each person in your party and have the boarding passes available at check-in. See EMI’s website for step-by-step instructions on how to use Express Docs.

It is essential that you review all documents thoroughly and that you bring everything with you. This process is similar to checking in for an airline flight, just more extensive. It is required.

May I cancel my reservation?
You may cancel, but we have a strict refund policy. Within TEN (10) DAYS of your registration, your deposit becomes nonrefundable. On or after November 20, 2019, your full cruise fare will be collected and is not refundable. Please see EMI/PHC Terms and Conditions page.

How do I pay for extras while on board?
While on board, HAL maintains a “cashless society.” All additional purchases made will be charged to passengers’ onboard accounts. These accounts must be settled before disembarking.

If you have not done so already online, you will need to register your credit or debit card in order to use your onboard account for shipboard purchases. On the day of sailing, your card will be pre-authorized for U.S. $60 per person for each day, or $420 per person. Your account will then be activated, and you may make purchases by simply showing your guest identification card and signing a receipt. At the end of your cruise, you will receive a final statement, and your card will be charged only for the actual amount of your purchases. Please inform your credit or debit card issuer in advance that your card will be used on a Holland America Line ship. This will help prevent delays in obtaining pre-authorization on board. Some banks may keep the pre-authorization in place for up to 30 days. If you do not want to use a credit or debit card, the ship will collect a cash deposit from you at time of boarding in the same pre-authorization amount. Any excess deposit will be refunded to you at the end of the cruise. Traveler’s checks may be cashed at the front office to make your deposit. Personal checks are not accepted on board.

What about tipping? To whom and how much?
A prepaid gratuity is included in your cruise fare. The gratuity currently is $14.50 (cabin) — $16.00 (suite) per person per day, or $101.50 (cabin) — $112.00 (suite) per person for the cruise. This will be shared among the Veendam’s entire staff. In addition, an automatic 15 percent gratuity is added to all bar and beverage service. Any tipping above this is entirely up to you. It is common, but not required, to tip for personal service in your cabin. Spa services include a 15 percent automatic gratuity. Additional tipping for bar service, dining room service, or the ship’s transportation services is not expected. For more info regarding these charges see Gratuities and Service charges.

In terminals, airports, ports of call, on-shore excursions, and at hotels, we suggest that you extend gratuities consistent with customary practices.

Are guests from outside the U.S. able to purchase online?
Yes. International guests will be able to book their cabins online. All credit card charges will take place in USD and be converted to your local currency the day of the transaction.

III. Travel To/From the Cruise

Regardless of who books your air travel, you must send EMI a copy of your flight itinerary. If you book your own travel, you must still provide EMI with your flight itinerary. EMI must provide HAL with travel itineraries for all passengers. This is a legal requirement: you will be denied boarding if you do not provide your travel itinerary in advance. You must provide a cell or other phone number that can be used to communicate with you in the event of travel delays.

We recommend that you purchase airline tickets early. We hope you can find a good deal for travel to Fort Lauderdale. EMI can help you book your flights; see EMI’s website for more information.

When do we leave? When do we come home?

Please note: This cruise departs and returns on a WEDNESDAY.

Boarding will begin in Fort Lauderdale at approximately 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 18, 2020; please do not arrive at the terminal before 11:00 a.m. You must be on board no later than 3:00 p.m. We sail at 4:00 p.m. local time and cannot wait for delayed passengers.

Fort Lauderdale is a major cruise port and there are many options for same-day travel from the airport to the cruise terminal. The two are quite close to each other. Please be sure to allow ample time for travel complications, understanding that you should arrive to the cruise terminal no later than 2:00 p.m. For those that choose to fly into Miami International Airport, driving time between the Miami airport and the port is approximately 40 minutes. Leave ample time to transfer as you would in any major city.

Upon our return to Fort Lauderdale, disembarkation may begin as early as 7:30 a.m. and will end by 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Passengers should easily be able to depart from Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, if you wish. We suggest a departure time no earlier than 1:00 p.m.

What if my luggage gets lost by the airline?
In the event your bags are delayed, Holland America will make every effort to work with local operators to help your bags catch up with the ship. Guests will need to submit a claim at the airport before joining the vessel, once onboard the Veendam, guests must submit their claim along with any other details to the Guest Service desk. Please note that some major discount air carriers require that lost or delayed luggage be signed for personally by the owner at the airport. Please check their policies carefully before booking your air travel.

Where can I stay in Fort Lauderdale?
EMI has blocked out rooms in a nearby hotel, before and after the cruise. See EMI’s website if you are interested. Fort Lauderdale hotel rooms are not included in your cruise fare. EMI will not book a hotel room for you unless you ask them to do so.

What are the arrangements for travel from airport to ship?
We recommend that you purchase a transfer package from EMI when you purchase your cruise — they are available for both Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport

They will offer a number of options; see EMI’s website for details. These transfers will include luggage handling. EMI will not book any of these options for you unless you request them. Costs for these transfers are in addition to your cruise fare. Here are the basic options:

– Airport to hotel on March 17th, hotel that night, and transfer to the ship on the 18th

– Airport to ship on March 18th.

– Ship to airport on March 25th.

– Ship to hotel March 25th, hotel that night, and transfer to the airport on the 26th.

How about getting to Fort Lauderdale on my own?
This may be a good option for many of our passengers. There are parking facilities available at or near the terminal, including a garage adjacent to the terminal.

How do I get my luggage onto the ship?
They do it for you! Once at the port terminal, you will leave your bags at the designated drop bag area for transfer to the ship—much the way you would check bags for a plane flight. There is no cost for this service. Your bags will be delivered directly to your cabin. A similar procedure will happen in reverse when we return to Fort Lauderdale.

When you first get on and last get off the boat, there will be a lengthy period of time when you will not have access to your baggage or to your cabin. Please be prepared with a small carry-on bag to hold the items you need, including all of your travel documents, medications, and any valuables you may have with you.

Whenever your bags are being transferred for you, please be sure to respect deadlines for having your bag ready, properly tag your bags, and reclaim them promptly. In particular, remember that just as at an airport, you will always need to claim your luggage in the cruise terminal. It will not automatically be transferred to your hotel.

Is there security screening?
Before embarking the ship, your luggage will be screened before being loaded onto the vessel. If electrical devices or illegal substances are detected, you will be called to security to verify your items.

Will I need a passport?
All passengers 16 years of age and over need passports. There are exceptions for infants and minors under the age of 16. Passports must be good for six months beyond the duration of the cruise. These regulations are strictly enforced. Please refer to Holland America’s website for Passport Guidelines.

May visitors come onboard?
Holland America does allow for guests to have onboard visitors. If guests are interested in having a guest on board, they can visit the front office to find out the terms and conditions.

What about after the cruise, in Fort Lauderdale?
We arrive early in Fort Lauderdale, allowing a great opportunity to explore all the area offers. EMI has blocked out hotel rooms in Fort Lauderdale for the night following the cruise, if you’d like to stay overnight.

EMI will offer you the option of booking a transfer directly to the airport if you are flying immediately following the cruise.

You will require a minimum of two (2) hours to transfer off and get from the ship to the airport, plus time to navigate the airport itself. We suggest booking flights out of Fort Lauderdale that leave after 1:00 p.m.

IV. Traveling Abroad

Will I need a passport?
Yes, all passengers must carry a passport that expires a minimum of six (6) months following the cruise. For this domestic origination cruise, infants and minors under the age of 16 may prove citizenship with a government-issued birth certificate, and copies are acceptable. Please refer to Holland America’s Passport Guidelines.

Do I need shots?
We are not aware of any special vaccinations or immunizations required for the areas to which we are traveling but please refer to Immunization Recommendations for additional information. Please refer to Travel Advisories for current details regarding all advisories.

What languages will be spoken at our ports of call?
English is the official language in Ocho Rios and George Town. In Mexico, the official language is Spanish, though many citizens speak English.

What about currency?


The currency of Jamaica is the JAMAICAN DOLLAR. ATM machines will be available to draw funds, but with arrival in Jamaica on a Sunday, banks will be closed. Credit cards are widely accepted.


The currency of the Cayman Islands is the CAYMAN DOLLAR, but the U.S. dollar is readily accepted. Credit cards are widely accepted.


The currency of Mexico is the MEXICAN PESO, although US dollars are still widely accepted in most local businesses in Cozumel. Your best bet is to use Mexican Pesos instead of other currencies to pay for your shopping, dining out, and other purchases as local business exchange rates are usually not good. Alternatively, you can pay with your credit card and be charged your bank’s exchange rate.

For ATMs, it is best to withdraw Mexican Pesos, as you will pay to convert your money twice if you withdraw USD.

V. Entertainment

What will we do on board?
Boredom is not an issue. Never has been, never will be. We will schedule a full slate of musical performances. In the main showroom and in smaller venues throughout the ship, you will have ample opportunity to enjoy your favorite “Prairie Home” performers. There will be sing-alongs and storytelling and gatherings with Garrison. We will add lectures, readings, and other events to HAL’s regular cruise offerings.

The APHC events are in addition to all of the activities you would expect on a cruise ship: dining, swimming, spa services, eating, relaxing, sports, gambling, shopping, eating, entertainment, other special events, and more eating.

When do we attend the evening performances?
Our main attraction on board is the evening performance in the main showroom. These can be similar to APHC broadcast shows, or they can be music concerts, or even shows featuring the various talents of your fellow passengers. Regardless, everyone wants to come see them.

The showroom only holds about half of the ship’s passengers, which is why we repeat the show each night. The problem comes when people try to see both shows. This can deny your fellow passengers the opportunity to see the show, so we use a plan that we hope you think is fair.

You will receive a color-coded Holland America ID card. This will identify which show you may attend each night. We are going to check this identification for each main evening show, just as we would take tickets for a regular performance. We will clear the auditorium after each show, and we will not allow people to reserve seats in advance.

Will you publish a schedule of activities?
We are always adding new things to do, right up to the day of departure. When you arrive on the ship, we will have for you a schedule of activities for the entire cruise. Once aboard, we adjust the schedule daily. HAL and APHC will publish an official daily schedule, which will be delivered to your cabin every morning.

Will I actually SEE Garrison and other performers?
The Prairie Home Company will be guests of Holland America just like you, living in cabins right down the hall or maybe next door. You’ll see them in the elevators, on the Lido Deck, at the buffets and bars, and, of course, on stage. Don’t hesitate to say hi, ask questions, or tell us you loved a particular event, but do understand that we may be running to our next assignment or just need some time on our own.

Should I bring a musical instrument?
Sure! On this cruise we plan to give our passengers opportunities to play together and we will schedule “jam” sessions with a few of our performers. In casual — purely unplugged — settings you’ll have the chance to share your musical talents with your shipmates. Acoustic instruments only — Garrison wouldn’t have it any other way!

Will any of the shows be broadcast?
No, but they will be recorded for possible later use. We may feature some video, photos, and audio segments via within a month or so of our return.

Will there be opportunities for autographs?
While on board, feel free to ask for autographs at your leisure. We will also schedule autograph sessions in coordination with the gift shops on board. Check in with a Prairie Home or EMI staff member on board if you have questions about this.

Will there be APHC merchandise for sale?
Yes. Check out the gift shops on board. We’ll have clothing, books, and lots of music featuring your “Prairie Home” favorites.

VI. Dining

When do we schedule our dining? May we sit together at dinner?
When you register for the cruise, you will request your seating preferences for dining. EMI will do everything possible to honor seating requests. In most every case you will be able to sit near friends and family (assuming you want to!). You may meet new friends at your table as well. Note that your dining time preference determines which performance of the evening Showroom events you will attend.

What is the difference between early seating and late seating?
The Dining Room and the Main Show Lounge each hold half of the ship’s passengers, so we all need to rotate.
—EARLY seating passengers will eat at the first seating of dinner, at 5:30 p.m. Then they go to the second Main Lounge show, at 8:30 p.m.
—LATE seating passengers see the Main Lounge Show first, at 6:00 p.m. They then go to dinner at the second seating, at 7:45 p.m.

While accommodations can often be made, due to the popularity of our evening shows, we will use assigned dinner times: the “As-You-Wish” dining program available on regular HAL cruises will not be used.

If I have food allergies or other dietary needs, will the ship be able to accommodate these?
Yes, but you must inform us in advance. Upon your initial booking via the EMI website, you will be asked about dietary restrictions. You will be asked again when you check in to Holland America to receive your Boarding Documents. Any special needs should be noted at this time (e.g. need for distilled water for CPAP machines, etc.). You can learn more under Shipboard Life at Holland America Frequently Asked Questions.

What is the Dress Code?
Because we are chartering the ship, APHC has the freedom to set our own dress code policies. We are considerably more relaxed than the standard cruise. Sunday-go-to-church clothes is about as fancy as we get. If you like to dress up, please feel free, and many of us may join you.

The only time there will be an actual dress code is in the dining rooms during the evening meal. On most nights, the dress code will be “smart casual.” This means long pants and sports shirt or sweater for men, and skirt or long pants and sweater or blouse for women. We ask that you not wear casual T-shirts, swimsuits, bathrobes, tank tops, shorts, and the like in the dining room. Further, we will designate one or two evenings as “semi-formal.” This generally means sport coat and maybe a tie for men; and a dress, skirt, or pantsuit for women. These nights are an opportunity for you to dress up, and the crew will wear their dress uniforms, but it is not a strict requirement.

May we dine elsewhere?
Holland America offers many other options for dining. You are not obligated to join us in the dining room, although you may want to let your seatmates know you won’t be joining them. Dining options include a private table at the Pinnacle Grill or the Canaletto Restaurant, informal dining on the Lido Deck, and Room Service available 24/7. The Pinnacle and Canaletto options require a modest surcharge — well worth it for the high quality of food, level of service, and atmosphere. Remember that the dining room is a lovely, peaceful, option for breakfast and lunch — and it’s included.

VII. Life Aboard Ship

How do I contact an EMI or APHC staff person? How will they be identified?
We will staff an info table near the front desk. And we’ll all try to wear our ID lanyards.

After boarding the ship, how long before I can get into the cabin?
Boarding for the ship begins several hours before we cast off. You’ll be able to settle in once your stateroom is prepared. HAL has streamlined this process to a great degree but please understand that they have to turn around accommodations for more than 1,200 people in a very short period of time. Plenty of onboard activities will be available while you wait. Make arrangements for your week. And the buffet lines will be open.

An announcement will be made when your staterooms are ready; that’s when you can meet your cabin steward and get unpacked.

What kind of amenities will I find in my cabin?
Cabins on the Veendam are outfitted much like a good hotel room. You will find them to be comfortable, nicely decorated, efficient, and clean.

All linens and bedding will be supplied. Your bathroom comes complete with towels, toiletries, and your very own onboard bathrobe. You will find ample closet and drawer space, a dressing table, cabin-controlled air conditioning, a variety of cabin lighting, and a television with shipboard programming.

All staterooms are equipped with standard 110 AC (U.S.  port) and 220/240 AC (2-prong European port) power outlets. Personal care items and electronics will work just as they do at home. Hair dryers are available in all staterooms. You may wish to bring a travel alarm clock since they are not provided, although your cabin phone accesses an effective wake-up call system.

For safety reasons, the ship respectfully requests that you do not iron clothing in your stateroom. Ironing facilities are available in the self-service laundry rooms for your convenience. Full laundry, dry-cleaning, and valet services are available on the Veendam.

Where can I smoke?
Please note that Holland America has a strict policy of prohibiting smoking in all staterooms. This policy will be strictly enforced. Substantial fees will be charged for cleaning your cabin if you smoke inside. In Verandah cabins, smoking is permitted outside on the balconies only.

In deference to our performers and your fellow passengers, this is a “non-smoking” cruise with even stricter policies than regular cruises. You may smoke only in one designated public area on one outside deck of the ship. Our cruise designates all interior areas (including all lounge and restaurant areas) as non-smoking where smoking might be permitted on other HAL cruises. See the Holland America Smoking Policy.

How can I be reached in case of an emergency?
Holland America has procedures in place for situations that require emergency contact with your loved ones. Please refer to Emergency Phone Numbers for more information.

What if I need medical attention?
Fully trained medical professionals are on board at all times, and a complete medical facility is available. Aspirin and seasickness pills are available at guest services, but you may have to pay for other items or services.

Can I call my friends in their cabin? Can I call home?
Your stateroom comes equipped with telephones that can be used to call your fellow passengers just as in a hotel. They can also be used for ship-to-shore communication, however significant charges apply. Please refer to Ship-to-shore communication for more information.

Passengers may not see our guest roster, and we will not give out cabin numbers.

Will my cell phone work?
Probably not while on board, almost certainly while in port — but be careful. Call your carrier for details for your plan. We suggest purchasing a data roaming package or making sure you deactivate your roaming feature before you leave port. Cellular at sea is very expensive.

Will I have access to the internet?
Yes. You may bring your own computer or use ones provided by HAL. You can buy minutes for surfing the internet at any point throughout the trip. Wi-Fi is available throughout the entire vessel, including your stateroom, and is charged under the same system. Please be aware that the prices are high and can add up quickly. Please refer to Internet Use for more details.

We know that on previous cruises, many of our passengers have not been satisfied with the internet service on board. HAL continues to do what they can to improve service. However, a ship on the open ocean will only be able to access a certain amount of bandwidth and there will definitely be service outages. For your information, the biggest problems on our cruises occur when all of us try to get on the internet between leaving port and having dinner.

We recommend that you do not plan on accessing the internet to stream video, hold conference calls, engage in an activity that requires to you to maintain one consistent connection, or any other activity requiring high-quality internet service. You should expect to be able to check your email and keep up on basic social media but there will be times when service is simply not available. It is also advisable that you LOG OFF when you have finished using the internet.

On this cruise in particular, reliable high-quality internet service will be readily available in all of our ports.

Can I get married on board ship?
No. This is a private, chartered cruise. No weddings. No divorces, either.

Will there be stuff for my kids to do?
Holland America provides a range of activities for kids through their Club Hal program. See HAL Onboard Activities for details. The Club HAL room is regularly available with games electronic and otherwise, and has daily special group activities. The schedule of events is determined by the number of kids who sail with us; we will include APHC programming in their schedule.

How should I dress for the weather?
March is one of the prime months to sail the Caribbean, when the seas are generally calm and weather temperate. Expect good beach weather.

When on deck, it can always be windy and cool; be prepared for that. Of course, be prepared for rain. Be sure to bring comfortable shoes for walking on deck or on shore.

Should I bring anything else?
If you are interested in “knowing stuff,” you might want to bring along your binoculars and a field guide or three (birds, marine mammals, wildflowers, and geology are just a few). Previous guests have found benefit from bringing a camera, a journal, an instrument, or their most recent knitting project.

What will sea conditions be like?
We could have calm seas. We could have large waves. The ship may glide placidly along with barely a perceptible movement. The ship may rock back and forth, making even the stout of heart (and stomach) reach for the Dramamine. We will probably see a bit of everything. Holland America schedules cruises for favorable weather, something we’ve certainly experienced over the years. It is unlikely that we will experience severe weather, and HAL does an excellent job of tracking and avoiding storms as necessary.

VIII. Excursions

You’ll find all the information you need at Shore Excursions. You will receive an email notice when they are available for your review and booking.

Booked guests may confirm shore excursion requests in advance of sailing. Once you have your Holland America booking number and cabin number, you may use it to view shore excursion information specific to your itinerary. To complete a booking, please proceed through all screens on the HAL booking page until you receive confirmation from them that your booking is complete.

Before you leave from home, we suggest you make use of a handy feature on the website: you can generate a complete schedule of your cruise that includes your pre-booked activities.

Guests may pre-book shore excursions online until five days prior to sailing. If your departure date is less than five days away, please call Shore Excursions at 1-888-425-9376 to book directly with an agent. All shore excursion requests are processed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Wait-listed requests for sold-out shore excursions will be processed prior to requests made on board. Children under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or responsible adult over 25.

Excursion cancellations may incur a cancellation fee, and any refund may be issued in the form of credit to your onboard account. Excursions have individual deadlines after which no refund or credit is given. Please refer to Shore Excursions for details.

All excursions are the responsibility of independent tour operators. HAL acts only as an agent to help you book your tours. We have no financial or operational relationship with them. While excursions may be arranged directly with independent operators on shore, you will have limited recourse in the event of an unsatisfactory experience.

All of our ports afford the opportunity to explore on foot at no cost or by local transportation. We will have extra information on all of our ports for you before and during the cruise. Please feel free to set out as you wish.

Wherever and however you explore, be sure to be back on time. Be sure that your watch is set to ship’s time; local time on land can be different. The ship cannot wait past scheduled departure times.

IX. Contact Us

Email us or call EMI’s Prairie Home Cruise number at 908-458-3591.

See EMI’s website for cabin pricing

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

August 24, 2019


7:30 p.m.

Faribault, MN

Faribault, MN

August 24, 2019

Love songs, poetry from memory, observational comedy, and accompaniment from pianist Richard Dworsky. $38.50

September 13, 2019


7:30 p.m.

Edmonds, WA

Edmonds, WA

September 13, 2019

Accompanied by Richard Dworsky on piano, it’s an evening with Garrison Keillor at Edmonds Performing Arts Center. 7:30 p.m.

September 14, 2019


7:30 p.m.

Coeur d'Alene, ID

Coeur d’Alene, ID

September 14, 2019

Garrison Keillor performs a benefit show in behalf of the Coeur d’Alene Symphony. 7:30 p.m.

September 20, 2019


8:00 p.m.

Waynesboro, VA

Waynesboro, VA

September 20, 2019

Accompanied by Richard Dworsky on piano, it’s an evening with Garrison Keillor at the Wayne Theatre. 8:00 p.m.

September 23, 2019


7:00 p.m.

Bethesda, MD

Bethesda, MD

September 13, 2019

Accompanied by Richard Dworsky on piano, it’s an evening with Garrison Keillor at Edmonds Performing Arts Center. 7:30 p.m.

October 5, 2019


4:30 p.m.

New Marlborough, MA

New Marlborough, MA

October 5, 2019

Garrison Keillor in conversation with bestselling author Simon Winchester. Tickets $20-$25.

October 11, 2019


7:00 p.m.

New York, New York

New York, New York

October 11, 2019

An Evening with Garrison Keillor and Heather Masse.

October 12, 2019


7:00 p.m.

New York, New York

New York, New York

October 12, 2019

An Evening with Garrison Keillor and Heather Masse.


The Writer’s Almanac for July 19, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 19, 2019

On this day 65 years ago, the first volume of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” was published. The three complete volumes were more than 500,000 words long.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for July 18, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 18, 2019

It’s the birthday of journalist Hunter S. Thompson (1937). After he died, per his request, his ashes were shot from a cannon.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for July 17, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 17, 2019

On this date in 1867, the Harvard Dental School was founded. Prior to the 19th century, people generally went to barbers or blacksmiths to get teeth pulled.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for July 16, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 16, 2019

In 1945 on this day, the first atomic bomb exploded 120 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Officials told citizens that an ammunitions dump had blown up.

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A Prairie Home Companion: July 20, 2002

A Prairie Home Companion: July 20, 2002

A rebroadcast of our February 5, 2000 show with Czech bluegrass band Druha Trava, guitarist Pat Donohue along with accordion player Dan Newton, and singer/songwriter Lynn Peterson.

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The Writer’s Almanac for July 15, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 15, 2019

It’s the birthday of the philosopher who said “There is nothing outside the text” — Jacques Derrida, born in El Biar, Algeria, 1930.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for July 14, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 14, 2019

On this day in 1789, an angry mob stormed the Bastille prison in Paris and liberated the seven prisoners within: four forgers, two “lunatics,” and an aristocrat accused of incest.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for July 13, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 13, 2019

There was a blackout in New York City on this date in 1977. Over 25 hours, more than 1,600 stores were looted, more than a thousand fires were set, and nearly 3,800 looters were arrested.

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The Writer’s Almanac for July 12, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 12, 2019

Today is the birthday of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904), who wrote under a pseudonym to avoid his father’s judgment, and always in green ink, because he believed it was the color of hope.

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The Writer’s Almanac for July 11, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for July 11, 2019

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was published on this date in 1960. Harper Lee wasn’t sure how it would be received. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961 and has sold more than 40 million copies.

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The pleasure of running into Stan on Sunday

I stopped in a cafe on Sunday after church to get awakened from a feeling of blessedness and who should I run into but my Anoka High School gym teacher Stan Nelson, who is 99 years old and still talking and making sense. He looked at me and said, “Are you still having trouble with chin-ups and the rope climb?” I was 17 at the time and now I’m 76, and I told him that I’ve managed to stay out of situations that might require me to climb a rope or lift myself up by a horizontal bar, so the answer is, No, it’s no trouble at all.

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When I consider how my time is spent

A mockingbird couple has set up housekeeping in a tree in our backyard and the male goes crazy whenever we set foot in his territory, which I guess means that their children have hatched and are at that perilous point in life when you’re about to fly. When we slip out back for supper, he shrieks at us from the corner of the yard, far from the nest, and flies from branch to branch to fence, cursing us, threatening to peck our eyes out. He’s a good father. The mother stays on the nest and he exercises his toxic mockingbird masculinity and yells bloody murder.

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Life, liberty, dancing, feasting, hugging, and collecting stuff

I have returned from a week in Portugal and a little village where we attended our nephew’s wedding and enjoyed lavish feasting and shameless dancing and people hugging each other left and right. There was liquor involved but mostly it sprang from lack of self-consciousness. Everybody knew each other except for us Americanos; there was nothing to hide. After the wedding, I saw men hugging other men, if you can believe such a thing. The father of the bride hugged the groom and squeezed him hard.

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A June wedding in a faraway village

We came to Portugal knowing only the words for apology (desculpe) and gratitude (obrigado) and were stunned by the beauty on every hand, the seaside city of Porto on the river Douro, the narrow twisty streets and red tile roofs over skinny passageways into stone-paved courtyards, the crowd on the stone wharf at night, the girl swinging flaming torches and an old man singing to his guitar about his many heroic disappointments.

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In the Fatherland for Father’s Day

I’ve landed in London where there are no elevators, only lifts, and where the signs say “Offices To Let,” which at first looked like “Office Toilet” to me, and where you see “Look Left” or “Look Right” painted on the pavement at every pedestrian crossing — and I wonder, How many of my countrymen looked the wrong way and were crushed by a lorry before the Brits painted the warnings? Nebraska wheat farmers, New York stockbrokers, confident successful men who brushed off their wives’ warning to look both ways. “I know how to cross a street, dang it,” they said and stepped in front of a double-decker bus and were erased from the face of the earth and their dust flown home for the memorial service.

They spoke of the kindly delight
In family, how he fought the good fight,
And nobody said
As they spoke of the dead,
“Why didn’t he look to the right?”

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Trying hard to relax and have fun

I’ve been a grind for many years, chained to my oars, and I am in serious need of frivolity, so last Friday my wife and daughter and I boarded the Queen Mary 2 in New York and sailed out of the harbor and under the Verrazano Bridge bound for England with a dance band on board, a casino, deck chairs where one can lounge and doze and do nothing meaningful whatsoever. A big band plays nightly in the enormous ballroom and there is a multitude of serious dancers on the floor who know the jitterbug, the foxtrot, the tango — really know them, don’t just stand and sway rhythmically — and a handsome Irishman belts out “Night and Day” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” There are impenetrable Brit accents everywhere and elaborately polite service — waiters who say “Thank you” at every opportunity. The bottle of English ginger ale says, “Upend before pouring” — when was the last time you saw “upend”? The sign in the toilet says that the plumbing does not operate on a “cistern system” but a pressure system so do not flush while seated. There is the sunny aft deck where I can lie and not read a book. So what do I do? I think about work.

Read More

The graduation speech I didn’t get to give

It was graduation weekend at my daughter’s school and so I hung out with emotional dads for a couple of days and at the graduation dance I got a little teary-eyed myself. It was the Father-Daughter dance and we shimmied and shook to “I Saw Her Standing There” and then a slow waltz to “Wonderful World” and I sang the words to her, “I hear babies cry, I watch them grow; they’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know.” And I meant them.

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A fine day on which I did nothing at all

Memorial Day and my love and I walked out in the park to observe the young and restless, the old and rickety, soaking up the sunshine. The laziest day of the year, meant to remember the insane fury of war. Contented families, families making an effort to ignore each other, kids teetering along on bikes or skateboards, dozens of runners each with his or her signature stride (lope, lunge, trot, traipse, scoot, sprint, stagger), picnickers lounging in the shade and dogs sniffing other dogs and toddlers acquainting themselves with the wonders of grass.

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Life is so interesting, it’s hard to stop

It’s a privilege to have a doctor of medicine in the family and my family has two, one American, one Swedish. We dreamers and ideologues need to come into contact with science now and then. The Swedish doctor told us yesterday she is skeptical of the American practice of routine colonoscopies, that the profit margin on the procedure is very high and the rationale is modest at best. I’d never heard skepticism about colonoscopies before; it was like someone bad-mouthing mouthwash. I’ve been pro-colonoscopy because it feels good to get cleaned out and the muscle relaxant is so luxurious and pleasurable, and health insurance paid the freight so I didn’t give it a thought. Interesting.

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What I learned from window replacement

I am drinking coffee this morning from a cup that says “Verum Bonum Pulchrum” — truth, goodness, beauty — an impossible ideal, but it’s my sister-in-law’s cup, not mine. Our apartment is undergoing window replacement so my love and I are being harbored by relatives. She sleeps in a handsome mahogany bed that belonged to her grandmother Hilda and I sleep on a hard single bed in the basement. Separation is good for a happy marriage like ours. We say good night and I trudge downstairs and lie in the dark on a skinny bed that is like the one I slept in when I was 17. So I close my eyes and it’s 1959 and I’m considering my prospects in life.  

Read More

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To submit poetry books for consideration to be used on The Writer’s Almanac, please mail to:

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410 Oak Grove Street
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PLEASE INCLUDE EMAIL CONTACT INFORMATION WITH YOUR SUBMISSION. The staff of TWA will contact you or your publisher if your work is selected to appear on The Writer’s Almanac.

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Press Kit

If you are hosting a show with Garrison, please feel free to use the below press photos for marketing, as well as the below short biography. Promo video for purpose of booking is available here.

Garrison Keillor did “A Prairie Home Companion” for forty years, wrote fiction and comedy, invented a town called Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average, even though he himself grew up evangelical in a small separatist flock where all the children expected the imminent end of the world. He’s busy in retirement, having written a memoir and a book of limericks and is at work on a musical and a Lake Wobegon screenplay, and he continues to do “The Writers Almanac” sent out daily to Internet subscribers (free). 

He and his wife Jenny Lind Nilsson live in Minneapolis, not far from the YMCA where he was sent for swimming lessons at age 12 after his cousin drowned, and he skipped the lessons and went to the public library instead and to a radio studio to watch a noontime show with singers and a band. Thus, our course in life is set. 

Recent reviews:

“Fans laughed, applauded and sang along throughout Sunday night’s two-hour show” -Jeff Baenen, AP News

“His shows can, for a couple of hours, transform an audience of even so-called coastal elites into a small-town community with an intimacy only radio and its podcast descendants can achieve” -Chris Barton, LA Times

“[Keillor is] an expert at making you feel at home with his low-key, familiar style. Comfortable is his specialty.” -Betsie Freeman, Omaha-World Herald