Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
Welcome to the Authors Guild gala. I come from the big flat place out west of here where there are many authors and they are sorry they couldn’t be here but the corn was not in yet and the hogs had the measles and needed to be inoculated.
Everyone has a gala now, the Salvation Army has a gala, the library, the 7th Avenue subway has a gala, the Central Park Reservoir, the American Irony Association — this gala is different in that there is no silent auction, no door prizes, and there is, as you can see, no entertainment, and it’s all in behalf of the Authors Guild which is like the Amalgamated Pipefitters Local 494 except there are more women and more elderly men, and it’s to support the battle for authors’ rights which as you know is a losing battle — in your lifetime, not in mine, but in yours, writers will feel lucky to be paid anything, a penny a word, and some writers will be paid in paper clips or tubes of mucilage, and they will live in pup tents on the outskirts of town by the freightyards and their children will run wild like coyotes and learn to forage for food, and I bring this up to put you in a grateful mood that here you are at perhaps the last Authors Guild gala with napkins and silverware. I’m older than you and I’m trying to give you some perspective.
I am old enough to remember when book publishers were in midtown Manhattan, in expensive high rises alongside financial companies. I am one of the few writers in this room to have typed my book manuscript on a typewriter and mailed it to a publisher in an envelope with postage on it. I remember when publishers put on parties to celebrate the publication of a book and held them in fancy midtown restaurants. They once put on one for me at the Oak Room of the Algonquin. Brendan Gill came. Lewis Lapham. Those days will never come again. Viking used to give me an advance for my books and now they send me a bill. But that’s all right.
There is a hardship fund that the Authors Guild Foundation operates and some of the proceeds of tonight’s gala go to that, a fund for needy authors, authors whose names were once on everyone’s lips and now they are diving into dumpsters and foraging off people’s plates at sidewalk cafes. Sidney Offitt is the man you need to get to know if you think you may ever apply for a stipend.
We all read the same stories about the dim prospects in the publishing business. America is more literate than ever, thanks to the Internet, and this writing is free. You can sit at a screen and read all day and all night, surfing around, from Henry James to Jesse James to the epistle of James to pajamas to Obama to Alabama to Alanon to non-sequiturs, and it’s all free, and you’re not committed to anything the way you are when you purchase a book, you’re a hummingbird in the lilac bushes, and the same if you want to be a writer. You just write. You don’t need to ask Alfred Knopf’s permission to start a website. Start it. Fill it up. People do this. You want to write a book, write it, send it to Lulu.com they’ll design it and everything. Send it to Amazon, they’ll make it into an e-book. No problem. And that is the future of publishing: twelve million authors in America, each with an average of sixteen readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75.
One problem with self-publishing is that it destroys the martyrdom that writers have enjoyed for at least a couple of centuries: the role of tortured genius is no longer available to us. Here we are, with a crack in our hearts that forced us to create, though we suffered horribly through it, and our book was rejected by 22 publishers, and then it was published by the 23rd and came out to vast critical acclaim that made us wildly famous and we had to go to New Hampshire to escape from fame, and now we’ve written nothing for 40 years because it’s just too painful. This is the mythology that once was available to us, but if you publish yourself, then it doesn’t work anymore. In the field of self-publication you can’t be a recluse. And if you stop writing, nobody cares.
Every time the Authors Guild holds a gala, I look around and wonder if this is maybe like the 1982 convention of typewriter salesmen or the 1951 meeting of CBS Radio affiliates or the 1916 wedding of Kaiser Wilhelm’s niece Duchess Gertrude and all of German nobility with their plumed hats gathered for the last time before the Great War sent them spinning off the precipice.
Anyone can have a website. You write a blog, you’re an author. You don’t need an agent to win you some space. It’s an anti-elitist time and the rabble is aroused against the pointy-heads who look down their noses at common folk and tell them what to think and that includes everybody in this room.
Call me a pessimist, call me Ishmael, but I think that book publishing is about to slide into the sea. We live in a literate time, and our children are writing up a storm, often combining letters and numerals (U R 2 1derful), blogging like crazy, reading for hours off their little screens, surfing around
We who live out in the frozen cornfields of the Midwest understand this very well and we don’t mind. We are a modest people with much to be modest about, self-effacing, anxious to efface ourselves and not wait for others to do the job. We could, if we chose to, despise New York, especially if we thought about Mayor Giuliani’s curled-lip bared-teeth speech at the 2008 Republican convention, sneering at Barack Obama as a city slicker. But we do not think about that. We admire New Yorkers for many many things, for their excellent transit system that gives you close encounters with interesting individuals, their handy street-corner hot dogs, and also their ability to express personal preference which we dirt farmers lost a long time ago. It was frowned out of us when we were children.
It seems so simple — say what you want, say what you think — but we gave up the ability in order to be unselfish and sociable and not be monsters, and so if we’re asked what we want to do, we say, “Hey. Whatever you want. Makes no difference. Suit yourself.” And having suppressed our likes and dislikes for so long, we are not sure what we want, or even who we are.
What I want is to be in New York, so here I am. The people I know in this city are whole-hearted people who tell you what they prefer, the noodles in garlic sauce or General Tsao’s Seven Joys of Meat Loaf. If you step on their toes, they don’t smile and step back and then brood about it for six months, they say something terse and meaningful and let that be the end of it. If they feel like crying, they do that. It’s okay to cry in New York. You can sit on the subway, tears running down your cheeks, and no one will think less of you. People may offer you some of their medication, or tell you about something going on in their life that’s even worse. You could suddenly find yourself with three or four new best friends.
Children, I am an author who used to type my book manuscripts on a manual typewriter. Yes, I did. And mailed it to a New York publisher in a big manila envelope with actual postage stamps on it. And I kept a carbon copy for myself. I waited for a month or so and then got an acceptance letter in the mail. It was typed on paper. They offered to pay me a large sum of money. I read it over and over and ran up and down the rows of corn whooping. It was beautiful, the Old Era. I wish you’d been there to see it. It’s gone now. If you want to know more, I’ll write a book about it but you’ll have to pay me in advance. I’m going to say a number. One hundred thousand. Take it or leave it.