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?”

“Yes.”

“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.

Available Now: BOOM TOWN by Garrison Keillor!

In Garrison Keillor’s newest novel, Boom Town, we return to Lake Wobegon, famous from decades of monologues on the classic radio show A Prairie Home Companion.

**Available in Hardcover, Audiobook, and eReader formats**

Lake Wobegon is having a boom year thanks to millennial entrepreneurship—AuntMildred’s.com Gourmet Meatloaf, for example, or Universal Fire, makers of artisanal firewood seasoned with sea salt. Meanwhile, the author flies in to give eulogies at the funerals of five classmates, including a couple whom he disliked, and he finds a wave of narcissism crashing on the rocks of Lutheran stoicism. He is restored by the humor and grace of his old girlfriend Arlene and a visit from his wife, Giselle, who arrives from New York for a big love scene in an old lake cabin.

 

Praise for Boom Town:

“Wonderfully over-the-top. Blisteringly funny, acute, and true. Keillor’s speaking to us with encouragement and empathy about the American life. But at the same time, he’s got our number that way he’s always had it. This book is a tonic.” —Richard Ford

 

“You can’t go home again unless you’re Garrison Keillor and home is Lake Wobegon. Then, of course, it is imperative that you do so—and we are fortunate indeed to tag along and share in the final chapter of the most fascinating and compelling characters ever conjured from the most vivid imagination of America’s greatest storyteller!

In Boom Town, we are invited to catch up as Garrison gets caught up with all of those beautifully flawed human beings that populate and promulgate their mythical town where all the women are finally accounted for, all the men are self-realized or died trying, and all the children are still way above average.” —Martin Sheen

 

Read the first chapter for free >>>

Purchase Boom Town Hardcover >>>

Download the audiobook as mp3s  >>>

Listen to the audiobook via Audible >>>

Read it on Kindle >>>

 

sign up for Garrison's newsletter here

A Wednesday drive in the old neighborhood

Another perfect summer and despite all there is to be forlorn about, I feel the same mindless happiness I remember from when I was 20 and running around Minneapolis in a red Mustang with a girl named Maggie and listening to the Cleftones and Cadillacs, the Coasters, the Drifters singing, “Out of the sun, we’ll be havin’ some fun. People walking above, we’ll be making love under the boardwalk.” We had no boardwalk at Lake Calhoun but there were dim places where we sat and necked. She had no plans for me nor did I for her, which was part of the mindlessness. Two young mammals keeping company, enjoying warm weather.

It all came back to me, riding around south Minneapolis Wednesday with my family, looking for the Dairy Queen on 38th Street, two blocks from the Grace & Truth Gospel Hall I attended as a boy in a small separatist sect where I enjoyed the feeling of complete comprehension of absolute truth, from Genesis to Revelation, right up to the age of twelve or thirteen.

Thanks to this upbringing, I have a good ear for the humorless self-righteous and when I got an email from an old friend asking for a donation to a collaborative storytelling collective to create a safe space and healing life-affirming environment for an inclusive group of young people focused on the intentional use of language to deepen self-awareness in the face of stress and trauma, I knew where he was coming from. I don’t object to this, I’m just a harmless old guy cruising around and looking forward to a Dairy Queen.

I did, however, note that in his list of minorities he’d serve, he listed “Dakhota” with a right-leaning accent mark over the o. I’d never seen the word spelled that way and I don’t know how to create that diacritical mark on my computer keyboard. But clearly, though he is white with no Dakhota corpuscles in him that he’s ever mentioned, he was demonstrating his moral superiority as one sensitive to indigenous nuance compared to a bigoted peasant such as myself.

Maggie and I were not inclusive, we were content to be two, both wanting to be writers, and we did tell stories, hers were about bad boyfriends who were too grabby, so I avoided grabbiness and simply held hands and eventually she kissed me and I kissed her back and was careful to make my kisses approximately equal in passion but not try to outdo her. Our safe space was the Mustang and the healing environment was July. In Minnesota you have to suffer a good deal to get to summer and when the perfect days arrive, you owe it to yourself to experience them fully. At the DQ I ordered a medium Butterfinger Blizzard and it was life-affirming.

Lake Calhoun was renamed Bde Maka Ska in honor of the Dakhota and surely it made no sense for Minneapolis to honor John Calhoun, the South Carolinian proponent of slavery and a man with bad hair, but for Maggie and me in the Mustang, the lake had no political significance, it was only a large body of water we looked at as we laid hands on each other. But I’m fine with the name change. Woody Allen was Allan Konigsberg and decided not to be; Allen Ginsberg’s first name was Irwin and a guy named Irwin could not have written “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” he would’ve become an insurance salesman. If Bob Dylan had remained Bob Zimmerman, Columbia Records never would’ve seen him as a poet and visionary and he’d be a cabdriver today. Maybe Maggie has become Starflower Moonbright and is conducting collaborative life-affirming workshops in Fargaux, North Dakhota. I wish her well.

As for me, I am enjoying a mindless summer day in the back seat behind my wife and daughter as we drive through my old neighborhood, eating our Dairy Queens. Some things we know for certain and that’s one. Another is that the two states west of here will never put the h in their names and the right-leaning accent mark over the o. There are good people there but they won’t let Minnesotans tell them how to spell their name. The originalists on the Supreme Court could find that Thomas Jefferson spelled the name with the h and the accent but I say, Live and let live. Enjoy the day. It’s summer.

 

Talking on the phone to Joyce and rejoicing

We sat in the sun and played Scrabble Monday and a few minutes later a vulgar four-letter profanity appeared on my letter rack that I could’ve played for 47 points and did not. I just wasn’t in the mood. I’d spoken on the phone that day with Joyce, a preacher and a favorite cousin of mine. Our grandfathers were brothers, and a long-ago rift between them separated our families for decades and I didn’t meet Joyce until I was an old man. This strange story of two stubborn Scots keeping their distance draws me even closer to her. She’s a student of family history and when we talk Jesus comes easily into the conversation with no change of tone of voice, same as you’d mention your brother or father. He is not in a separate universe.

I’ve tried to say the four-letter word several times and I can’t get it to sound natural, not like my two friends who use it often to bold-face what they’re saying. I don’t object. They’re neighbors and Jesus said to love them so I do, mostly, though the word sounds alarming to me like breaking glass. There’s no kindness about it.

Joyce’s grandfather was in the Navy and mine worked for the railroad and they must’ve heard plenty of profanity but never took up the habit. My grandpa, however, was capable of silent anger of an enduring nature, which his children knew and dreaded. My mother as a girl once sat down in the kitchen window and didn’t notice the fresh blueberry pie on the sill and knocked it out on the lawn and she was terrified her dad would berate her for it. He once got angry at her for being too friendly with boys at school and sent her to transfer to a school where she knew nobody. She forgave him and a few years later she had to confess to him that she was pregnant by the boy who would become my father though they hadn’t said their vows yet.

It was 1936, he was still needed on the farm, his father having died three years before, and she was in nurse’s training. They’d been in love for five years and had no money and one day, driving a double team of horses, he almost broke his neck when the horses bolted and the wagon crashed in the ditch, and he was so elated by his survival he wrote her a long letter describing the mishap — the only sustained narrative I ever knew to come out of my father — and he borrowed his brother’s Model A and drove to the city and a few months later she was pregnant. They lied to Grandpa, said they had eloped, and both families were upset but the storm passed. Grandpa’s anger might have exiled her to a home for unwed mothers and my brother Philip would’ve been adopted and I would not have come into existence. But they were forgiven and the story was kept secret by my 21 aunts and uncles and I never found out until my parents were gone and I was an 70-year-old orphan.

Righteous indignation is the easy part of the Christian faith and the hard part is forgiveness. Our country is caught up in ferocious indignation but there is a more merciful culture among us. We know that our country is a haven for the hopeful. We grieve for the migrant workers who died of the heat in the semitrailer that hauled them up from Mexico. We grieve for the pregnant women trapped in an impossible dilemma. The children in room 112 are still on our minds.

What Grandpa never told my mother was that her mother was pregnant for three months before he married her and the indignation of his family was one thing that drove him to leave Scotland and come to America. This is why Joyce and I are keen about family history. Each of us owes our life to a marvelous combination of circumstances, and mercy and kindness and forgiveness are entwined with it.

The righteously indignant are missing out on comedy, which is at the heart of America and which is about forgiveness. Jews don’t recognize Jesus as Messiah, Protestants don’t recognize the pope, and Baptists don’t recognize each other in the liquor store. I heard that joke from a Baptist when I was a kid and I still love it. Jesus broke bread with sinners and Republicans and we should do likewise.

Here're your orders: make something beautiful

I woke up this morning and my good woman wasn’t gone, she was asleep beside me, I didn’t feel an aching in my head, no blues around my bed. I made coffee, it tasted fine, not like turpentine. I could put gin in the coffee and make it taste like turpentine but why would I? And that’s how I feel about the Six Supremes who’re trying to take us back to the 19th century. No need to grieve over it, November is coming, and the simple solution is to throw the bums out. Elect a Congress with a two-thirds majority in favor of enlarging the Court to fifteen, which will reverse the reversals. Ninety million eligible voters sat out the 2016 election and that’s how we wound up where we are with this ambitious minority in power. So you’re depressed by this turn of events. Think of the Six, staying home with the shades pulled, their spouses and children going to the hair salon accompanied by plainclothesmen with a bulge under the jacket. They know that they are widely despised. They avoid eye contact with passersby. I doubt they’re ordering takeout: some worker at Domino’s sees Alito’s name on the order, she is likely to tamper with the pizza. The Six are not attending concerts. No picnics for them. No long car trips except to Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. Clarence and Ginni surely have close friends but after he announced that the Supremes should take a hard look at gay relationships and contraceptives, he must be thinking about the children and grandchildren of the friends, the boy with his hair in a bun, the girl with the tattoos, and what about the paperboy and the waiters at the country club? And what if he takes a wrong turn and runs into the Pride Parade? They might put him on a rainbow blanket and march down the street tossing him in the air, waving his arms and legs, a ridiculous fate for the Leader of the Pack. You and I, my dears, can walk freely through town with a clear conscience, enjoy the breeze in the trees and say hi to the cop on the corner. The Six cannot. The cop is not so friendly, imagining everybody carrying a loaded .45 and if he sees one of the six enablers, he might give them the finger, which so far is protected by the First Amendment. Don’t be disheartened. Deal with the problem. If you’re troubled by inflation, cut back on expenses. Don’t buy sparkling water. Fill up the glass with tap water and if you want bubbles, stick a straw in the water and blow. If you’re depressed by the state of things, skip the news and take a walk beside a large body of water and look at the stars and the moon. The newscaster will say, “Good evening” and then give you fifty-seven reasons why it’s not. Give yourself a break. The Gang of Six is heading for 1845 and I doubt they’ll get to Prohibition before they fade into the sunset and go down in the WWTT chapter of history (What Were They Thinking). The Six couldn’t find abortion mentioned in the Constitution so they dumped Roe but maybe when they go to their physician to deal with their gloominess, they’ll find a medical originalist with a bucket of leeches who’ll bleed them white and administer powerful purgatives until they’re considerably lighter, and thus they will regain their senses and so will we. Meanwhile, remind yourself that other people have thrived under wretched governors so don’t be discouraged. The Duke of Saxe-Weimar threw Bach in jail for daring to think he had individual rights. Dante was sent into exile and he wrote the Inferno so he could put the politician Argenti into the Fifth Circle of Hell. Dostoevsky joined a liberal study group for which, in 1849, he was thrown into prison and sentenced to death by firing squad, and was third in line to be executed when a pardon arrived. He lit out for Paris, London, Berlin, and figured out how to survive, writing Crime and Punishment in serial installments for magazines, avoiding politics. While cruelty is in power, do what Mozart did. Exercise your gifts. Create beautiful things. Wolfgang stayed clear of emperors and did his work and he lives on today and the emperors are just moldy names on marble slabs covered with pigeon droppings. If you can’t write The Marriage of Figaro, write your own marriage and make it a work of art.  

America is missing a holiday maybe

It’s over and gone, but every Midsummer Day I remember the dinner at Hanne and Ole’s farm in Denmark back in 1989 when fifty of us sat in a meadow at long tables with white cloths and good china for a feast of cold soup and salad and white wine, platters of lamb and potatoes, and dessert and coffee, and the Danish lady next to me speaking perfect schoolgirl English, and around ten p.m., as the sky turned dark, we traipsed down to the ocean shore and lit a bonfire and burned a straw witch and all the Danes sang from memory songs they’d known from childhood and we could see far away up the shore, other bonfires, other parties, other witches being burned.

We have no celebration like it in America. There’s no commercial motive behind Midsummer’s Day, no political rationale or religious, it’s about the glory of summer and friendship and the casting out of evil spirits. I was there as an outsider, and in celebration of the day they went out of their way to make me feel welcome. The Danish lady had heard that I was an American author and she read a book of mine and talked about it, which, my being a self-effacing Midwesterner, made me uncomfortable but it was a kind gesture.

Maybe the Fourth could become that sort of celebration. We need some community parties that have a good feeling without a big message. The boomers went in for big music festivals, Woodstock and then the Grateful Dead concerts, thirty thousand people in tribal clothing, seriously stoned, listening to a stoned band on a distorted sound system vamping for twenty-five minutes on a song that was better at four and a half. The Dead concert was not about community, it was about who was not welcome, your parents, teachers, people over thirty.

I attended a strawberry fest once and that was a fine celebration. You pop a big ripe red strawberry in your mouth and you feel your meanness dissipate. That’s why strawberry-rhubarb pie is such a great innovation, combining sweetness and irony. It is a beautiful marriage and marriage, as we know, is the basis of community and the true test of character. The Deadheads were under the drug-induced illusion that they were lonely geniuses, but when old friends and neighbors gather to celebrate, it’s a triumph of hope over experience.

Denmark is a nation of a dozen political parties so you knew there was plenty of stiff disagreement under the surface and, as in any group of people who know each other all too well, various old feuds and misunderstandings and interesting gossip, but they set it aside when the witch is carried in on her pole and consigned to the flames. Let go of the past, summer is here, live these brilliant days one by one, put regret and recrimination behind.

Marriage is a great test and some of us were allowed to retake it until we got it right. To make a life with your most knowledgeable critic is heroic, and the reward is a spacious happiness, no doubt about it. I have no objection to same-sex marriage but it strikes me as a compromise, whereas marrying someone from the other team is a bold move. My parents eloped and married in secret over the opposition of both families and this was a bond between them, they were in love to the very end, though they were as different as could be, a farm boy and a city girl, a stoic and a romantic. My mother loved comedians and laughed at Jack Benny and Lucille Ball and my dad didn’t understand comedy, it struck him as contrary to Scripture. She adored Christmas, he thought it was a pagan aberration, but they worked it out.

And now Jenny walks into the room and asks what I’m writing and she’s going to want me to read it to her and when I do, she’s going to tell me to take out the part about same-sex marriage, that it’ll hurt people’s feelings, but I’m not going to do it. Some of my best friends, et cetera, et cetera, and if you can’t kid your friends, then we have a problem. She and I have been together thirty years and she still mystifies me. We could make Columbus Day into Couples Day: marriage is a voyage into the unknown and when you get there you find out it’s not where you thought you were going, thank goodness.

A Prairie Home Companion An Evening of Story and Song Humor Love & Comedy Tour Old Friends Poetry Prairie Home Christmas Show Solo Songs Stories The Gratitude Tour
Schedule

July 10, 2022

Sunday incl LIVESTREAM

7:30 p.m.

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

A Prairie Home Companion American Revival comes to Ryman Auditorium on July 10, 2022 with Aoife O’Donovan, Joe Newberry, Heather Masse, Rich Dworsky, Sam Bush, Pat Donohue, Fred Newman, Tim Russell and others. LIVE STREAM AVAILABLE

July 25, 2022

Monday

7:30 p.m.

Brown County Playhouse, Nashville, IN

Nashville, IN

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Nashville, IN for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

July 27, 22

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.

RESCHEDULED Midland Theatre, Newark OH

Newark, OH

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

July 28, 2022

Thursday

8:00 p.m.

Rescheduled The Kent Stage, Kent, OH

Kent, OH

March 4 in Kent, OH Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

July 30, 2022

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Door County Auditorium, Fish Creek, WI

Fish Creek, WI

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Fish Creek, Wisconsin for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

October 9, 2022

Sunday

7:00 p.m.

Paramount Hudson Valley, Peekskill, NY

Peekskill, NY

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Peekskill NY. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unite us.

October 13, 2022

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Virginia Theatre, Champaign, IL

Champaign, IL

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

November 6, 2022

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

The Bend Theatre, West Bend, WI

West Bend, WI

Garrison Keillor brings his show to West Bend, WI for a performance of sing-a-longs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

December 4, 2022

Sunday

8:00 p.m.

Broward Center for Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Fort Lauderdale, FL

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Fort Lauderdale, FL for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

Radio

To sign up for the daily Writer’s Almanac e-newsletter, which includes unedited versions of previously aired TWA episodes, please click here.

To make a donation to support this archival project, please click here. You can also support us by buying a paid Substack subscription or mailing a check to Prairie Home Productions  PO Box 2090  Minneapolis, MN 55402

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, July 1, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, July 1, 2022

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Jean Stafford was born on this day in 1915. Author of “Boston Adventure,” “The Mountain Lion,” and “The Catherine Wheel.”

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 30, 2022

On this date in 1864, President Lincoln granted the Yosemite Valley to California for “public use, resort, and restoration.” The Yosemite Land Grant of 1864 marked the first time the federal government set aside land specifically for preservation and recreational use.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, June 29, 2022

On this day in 1613, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burned to the ground. The thatched roof caught on fire after a theatrical cannon misfired during a production of Henry VIII.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, June 28, 2022

It’s the birthday of the man who wrote, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, born in Geneva in 1712.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 27, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, June 27, 2022

Today marks the birthdays of poets Frank O’Hara (1926), Lucille Clifton (1936), and Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872).

Read More
A Prairie Home Companion: July 2, 2005

A Prairie Home Companion: July 2, 2005

A wonderful 2002 Tanglewood performance, with guests Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Peter Schickele and Inga Swearingen.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, June 26, 2022

Pearl S. Buck was born on this day in 1892. A child of Christian missionaries, raised in China, her novel “The Good Earth” has become a classic.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, June 25, 2022

Anne Frank’s diary was published on this day in 1947. “It’s an odd idea for someone like me to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I — nor for that matter anyone else — will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl. Still, what does that matter? I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart.”

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, June 24, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, June 24, 2022

Poet Stephen Dunn was born on this day in 1939. He published more than 10 books of poetry before his collection “Different Hours” won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 23, 2022

“Today I have so much to do/I must kill memory once and for all/I must turn soul to stone/I must learn to live again”–Russian poet Anna Akhmatova born in Odessa in 1889.

Read More
Writing

A Wednesday drive in the old neighborhood

Another perfect summer and despite all there is to be forlorn about, I feel the same mindless happiness I remember from when I was 20 and running around Minneapolis in a red Mustang with a girl named Maggie and listening to the Cleftones and Cadillacs, the Coasters, the Drifters singing, “Out of the sun, we’ll be havin’ some fun. People walking above, we’ll be making love under the boardwalk.” We had no boardwalk at Lake Calhoun but there were dim places where we sat and necked. She had no plans for me nor did I for her, which was part of the mindlessness. Two young mammals keeping company, enjoying warm weather.

It all came back to me, riding around south Minneapolis Wednesday with my family, looking for the Dairy Queen on 38th Street, two blocks from the Grace & Truth Gospel Hall I attended as a boy in a small separatist sect where I enjoyed the feeling of complete comprehension of absolute truth, from Genesis to Revelation, right up to the age of twelve or thirteen.

Read More

Talking on the phone to Joyce and rejoicing

We sat in the sun and played Scrabble Monday and a few minutes later a vulgar four-letter profanity appeared on my letter rack that I could’ve played for 47 points and did not. I just wasn’t in the mood. I’d spoken on the phone that day with Joyce, a preacher and a favorite cousin of mine. Our grandfathers were brothers, and a long-ago rift between them separated our families for decades and I didn’t meet Joyce until I was an old man. This strange story of two stubborn Scots keeping their distance draws me even closer to her. She’s a student of family history and when we talk Jesus comes easily into the conversation with no change of tone of voice, same as you’d mention your brother or father. He is not in a separate universe.

I’ve tried to say the four-letter word several times and I can’t get it to sound natural, not like my two friends who use it often to bold-face what they’re saying. I don’t object. They’re neighbors and Jesus said to love them so I do, mostly, though the word sounds alarming to me like breaking glass. There’s no kindness about it.

Read More

Here’re your orders: make something beautiful

I woke up this morning and my good woman wasn’t gone, she was asleep beside me, I didn’t feel an aching in my head, no blues around my bed. I made coffee, it tasted fine, not like turpentine. I could put gin in the coffee and make it taste like turpentine but why would I? And that’s how I feel about the Six Supremes who’re trying to take us back to the 19th century. No need to grieve over it, November is coming, and the simple solution is to throw the bums out. Elect a Congress with a two-thirds majority in favor of enlarging the Court to fifteen, which will reverse the reversals. Ninety million eligible voters sat out the 2016 election and that’s how we wound up where we are with this ambitious minority in power.

So you’re depressed by this turn of events. Think of the Six, staying home with the shades pulled, their spouses and children going to the hair salon accompanied by plainclothesmen with a bulge under the jacket. They know that they are widely despised. They avoid eye contact with passersby. I doubt they’re ordering takeout: some worker at Domino’s sees Alito’s name on the order, she is likely to tamper with the pizza. The Six are not attending concerts. No picnics for them. No long car trips except to Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. Clarence and Ginni surely have close friends but after he announced that the Supremes should take a hard look at gay relationships and contraceptives, he must be thinking about the children and grandchildren of the friends, the boy with his hair in a bun, the girl with the tattoos, and what about the paperboy and the waiters at the country club? And what if he takes a wrong turn and runs into the Pride Parade? They might put him on a rainbow blanket and march down the street tossing him in the air, waving his arms and legs, a ridiculous fate for the Leader of the Pack.

Read More

A weekend in the wilds of Connecticut

I have seen some of the future lately and I must admit it’s very appealing to me. My wife drives through Connecticut, a woman’s voice in the dashboard directing her along a twisting route through small towns laid out in the 18th century, a street plan designed to frustrate intruders, and my daughter in the back seat FaceTimes her roommate Saamiya who is in India, visiting relatives. My daughter is drawn to people, loves to be in a group, and the phone is her instrument of choice, and soon Marisa joins from London, and Erin in New Jersey, Hindu, Orthodox, and Jewish, joined in small talk. Remarkable to me, not to her.

“Can you feel how smooth the car runs?” my wife says. She took it to a garage for an oil change two days ago and the garage texted her videos of two very worn tires and an engine that needed retuning and she texted back her consent. The cost was steep but the advance info lessened the shock. I wish I’d been at the marketing meeting that came up with that idea.

Read More

Just a word about Sunday, then I shut up

Father’s Day is a wonderful joke, a day on which you sit with your brood and someone turns to you and says, “When is Father’s Day? Isn’t it in June?” and you, the father, say, “I have no idea whatsoever.” And that’s the end of it. Mother’s Day is the big deal when tanker ships full of French perfume dock at the bottling plants and four-star restaurants hire extra staff and Father’s Day is the Sunday when someone gives you a bottle of cologne that smells like disinfectant. The price tag is still on it, $1.89.

Women, as we know unless we’re in Texas or in the memory unit, run this world. There was never a single object that a man set down that a woman didn’t reach over and move it. Never a sentence came out of a man’s mouth that a woman didn’t correct. Women decide what we shall eat and what we shall sit on or sleep on, and a man’s opinion is of no more use than that of the family cat. This is a major factor in the popularity of gay marriage: two men decide they want to be free and sleep on cotton sheets and not polyester and have dark brown towels and wear festive colors rather than the prison uniforms women buy for us. The sex is an add-on, mainly it’s about exercising personal taste.

Read More

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit a shirt

As a Midwesterner, I was brought up to be self-effacing and make no demands of anybody. I don’t honk, I don’t wave at the waiter who’s ignoring me, I don’t want to be a problem. Offer me ranch or blue cheese dressing, I say, “Whatever is easier for you, whichever you have more of, whatever nobody else wants.” “Just choose, damn it,” the host says, and I’m tempted to ask for blue cheese but I don’t want to if it deprives someone else of blue cheese who is on the edge of the cliff already and, denied his dressing, might harm himself. “We have plenty of both,” the host says. But now I’m wondering, “What do I have against ranch? Is it my antipathy to cowboy mythology and the fetishization of guns?” And the host screams, “CHOOSE!” And I ask him, “Which one has less impact on the environment?” And he shows me to the door and locks it after me.

Self-effacement is rare in New York where I live. People don’t go around meeking each other as they do back in Minnesota, because here, the Christian faith is an oddball item, as it was in Jesus’s time. It’s a city of Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and a million people who moved here to escape from fundamentalist families, plus other minorities, Sodomites and Gomorrhians, and the people who designed the Tower of Babel and went into the practice of law.

Read More

Looking down the road, seeing the future

It would appear that five of the Supremes are favoring an absolute right to possess any weaponry whatsoever by whoever has the cash, and to bear arms without restriction in schools, churches, shopping centers, aboard airliners, in the courtroom itself, that a right is a right, period. And when the Executive Quintet opens those doors, we’ll see dramatic changes here in the land of the free and home of the brazen, such as the man police apprehended carrying a gun near Justice Kavanaugh’s home last week, with intent to do harm.

We have 400 million guns now and when we get up to a billion, there will be more men with guns than police can apprehend, and it’s safe to say that no parent will send children to school, even one with armed guards. Law enforcement has been overwhelmed in many cities, including Minneapolis, where police have begun to privatize themselves and hire out as freelance security. Education, I suppose, will move online. Millions of people will become consultants and work out of their homes; manufacturing will all go to China. The closing of schools will likely mean the end of interscholastic sports except fencing, sharpshooting, and bowling, which may be useful for self-defense.

Read More

The meaning of life as it dawned on me the other night

I enjoy writing this column every week but how would you know that, me being from Minnesota, from stoical people, brought up to bite our tongue and persevere through suffering, and if pleasure occurs, be patient, it will soon pass. In other parts of the country, our stoicism would be diagnosed as depression. Sedatives are pretty much wasted on us. Joy is a word on Christmas cards, not used in conversation. At games, the cheerleaders only try to keep the crowd awake, and if our team wins, we think, “Well, I guess it could’ve been worse and next time it probably will be.”

We’re people of few words and that’s why we’ve produced very few writers. Fitzgerald was an Easterner born in St. Paul by mistake and he left as soon as he could and never returned. The poet Robert Bly’s big book was Silence in the Snowy Fields, which pretty much says it all, and then he wrote Iron John about plumbing. As for Louise Erdrich, she grew up in North Dakota.

Read More

Recovering from disaster, thanks to my heroes

I’ve been writing nagging hectoring columns about malfeasance in high places lately, and now it’s time to admit I left the water running in the shower three weeks ago and it leaked down to two apartments below us and caused water damage and now insurance adjustors are working out a settlement and I am required to wear a hazard-orange vest with IN THE EVENT OF ERRATIC BEHAVIOR, CALL — and my wife’s phone number written on the back. I distinctly remember turning the water off, but plaster damage below us says otherwise. So I’m not going to write about the federal judge who threw out the mask mandate that led to the steep rise in COVID cases. I have my own problems.

My wife is a forgiving person. She has not filed for guardianship. She kicks my butt at Scrabble but she’s gracious about it. She rations my bacon cheeseburgers. She tells me if I look bedraggled so I don’t walk down the street and people hand me spare change. And she turns out the light at night and rolls over and puts her arms around me. This is better than a Pulitzer Prize. So I don’t wake up in the morning with an aching in my head and the blues all around my bed and the water tastes like turpentine because my good gal left me here cryin’. She didn’t. She has made coffee and she has read the morning paper so that I don’t need to. When you skip the news, life is a lot more like Anne of Green Gables or The House at Pooh Corner.

Read More

Some news, as we know, is realer than others

Uvalde stays in the mind despite all distractions, a pleasant day at a little summer house in Connecticut and Scrabble on the porch and the drive back to Manhattan on the Merritt Parkway with its arched stone bridges dating back to the days when families went for a “drive” for pleasure — it stays because it is so real. I don’t understand economics, Ukraine is far away, climate change is an abstraction, but the terrified parents across the street from their kids’ school hearing gunshots, they are real, and I have a great-niece who is the same age as the kids in room 112 and I imagine her as the girl who lay on the floor among dead classmates and called 911 and said, “Send the police now, please.” That is my niece, a lively independent spirited girl who loves reading and bonds with her grandma and eats like a trucker but is thin as a rail thanks to the intensity of her life. That girl has a name, like the kids in Texas.

The teachers Eva and Irma are real. They are my fourth-grade teachers, Miss Carroll and Mrs. Moehlenbrock. The Border Patrol trooper in the hallway who said to his two colleagues, “Let’s get this done,” and the three of them burst into 112, I know men who would’ve done that. The shooter is completely unreal, a blank shadow.

Read More

Email sign-up:

Sign up for the Garrison Keillor & Friends email newsletter here >>>

Sign up for the weekly A Prairie Home Companion email newsletter here >>>

Sign up for the daily The Writer’s Almanac email newsletter here >>>


Submit to The Writer’s Almanac:

We are not accepting new poetry at this time. For questions, please contact twa @ garrisonkeillor.com


ShopGarrisonKeillor.com Questions 

For questions related to items you have ordered from our store, please contact orders @ garrisonkeillor.com


Get In Touch
Send Message

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

To shop merchandise related to Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion, and The Writer’s Almanac, visit our new online store >>>

To make a donation to The Writer’s Almanac,            click here >>>