The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, August 5, 2022

TWA from Friday, August 5, 2011

“Time with You” by Gary Soto, from Partly Cloudy: Poems of Love and Longing. © Harcourt, 2009.

ORIGINAL TEXT AND AUDIO – 2011

The New York Daily News debuted the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” on this day in 1924. Cancelled in 2010 after a run of nearly 86 years, the street-smart redhead inspired a radio show, a Broadway musical, three film adaptations, mass-marketed books, and merchandise that included everything from lunchboxes to curly wigs. Although only a fraction of this happened before the strip’s creator, Harold Gray, died in 1968, it was enough to make him a millionaire.

Gray’s wealth drew criticism during the Great Depression, when he used the strip to voice his populist political beliefs: namely, that the poor ought to pull themselves up by the bootstraps without government intervention or assistance. This is how his character Daddy Warbucks, the tuxedoed war profiteer, had succeeded, transforming his modest machine shop into a World War I munitions factory. Gray expressed his distaste for FDR and his New Deal in the strip’s storylines, prompting one left-leaning writer to label it “Hooverism in the funnies.” The public didn’t seem to care — in 1937, “Little Orphan Annie” was the most popular comic in the country.

Forty years later, when the playwright Thomas Meehan adapted the strip for the 1977 Broadway musical, Annie, he subverted Gray’s original politics. The updated Annie stumbles upon a “Hooverville” of homeless people who sing the ironic “We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover,” and she is later saved from greedy imposter parents and the evil orphanage supervisor by FDR himself. The play — and the 1982 film — ends with a rousing chorus of the song “A New Deal for Christmas,” celebrating the economic plan that the strip’s creator had so despised.

Politics aside, both Gray and Meehan had hard-knock lives, at least as teenagers. Meehan’s father died when he was 15, and Gray was orphaned just before finishing high school.

Although Gray credited a girl he’d met on the streets of Chicago as his inspiration for the character of Annie, he took the strip’s title from that of a popular poem by James Whitcomb Riley, originally published in 1885. That Annie was based on a real orphan girl who lived in the poet’s home during his childhood, earning her room and board by helping Riley’s mother with the housework. The child was called Allie, short for Alice, and the poem based on her was supposed to be called “Little Orphant Allie.” A simple typo changed her name to Annie, and by the time Riley requested that it be corrected, the poem was gaining popularity and he let the misprint stand.

      From the first stanza that started it all:

      Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,

      An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,

      An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,

      An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep.


The British tabloid The Daily Mirror debuted the comic strip “Andy Capp” on this day in 1957. A pun on the word “handicap” in the dialect of northern England, where the comic is set and where its creator, Reginald “Reg” Smythe, was raised, Andy Capp is a roustabout who spends his time drinking, gambling, and fighting with his long-suffering wife, Flo.

The strip continues in syndication, despite Smythe’s death in 1998, and is read in 13 languages across 31 countries. These days, Andy has kicked his smoking habit, and the Capps no longer engage in domestic violence — they go to marriage counseling.


It is the birthday of director and screenwriter John Huston, best known for films like The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and The African Queen, all of which he adapted from novels. Born in 1906 in Nevada, Missouri, Huston went on to make an unusual number of movies from classic literature, including Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, and the last movie he finished before his death in 1987, The Dead, from the famous James Joyce story.

Huston was friends with Ernest Hemingway — they shared a fondness for big-game hunting, boxing, drinking, cigars, and women. But Huston’s films didn’t all reflect his personal tastes and sensibilities; in defense of his eclectic filmography, he once said, “I never try to duplicate myself. One must avoid personal clichés.”

He also said that FDR was “the only president in my time I thoroughly approved of.” Huston was the director of the 1982 movie Annie.


On this day in 2009 the writer Budd Schulberg died at the age of 95. Known for naming names in the Red Scare of 1951, arresting the Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, publishing a fictionalized account of his failed attempts to collaborate with a drunken F. Scott Fitzgerald, and for founding centers in LA and New York to support young black writers, Schulberg is best remembered for a single line of dialogue. “I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody,” he wrote in the screenplay for On the Waterfront.

A lifelong fan of boxing and frequent writer on the sport, Schulberg claimed to have fought with Hemingway over the subject at a party in Key West, nearly coming to fisticuffs until friends separated them.

“The writers are really almost the only ones, except for very honest politicians, who can make any dent on that system,” he said to The New York Times about the dangers of power and greed. “I tried to do that.”


Today would be the 47th wedding anniversary of actress Anne Bancroft, who died in 2005, and comedian Mel Brooks. Brooks credited his wife as having encouraged him to take his film The Producers to Broadway. The musical won him three Tonys in 2001, making him the eighth person ever to have achieved the “EGOT,” the distinction of having won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and a Tony.

Five months later, a ninth member joined the EGOT club: Mike Nichols. Nichols was the original director of the 1977 Broadway production of Annie.


Today in 1884, the cornerstone of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal was laid. One year prior, a fundraiser for the pedestal’s construction solicited art and literary works for auction; 34-year-old Emma Lazarus donated a poem for the occasion, which she titled “The New Colossus.”

Devoted to the plight of Jewish immigrants, Lazarus imagined that the statue would become a symbol of hope for all Ellis Island arrivals. She wrote her verse three years before the statue was completed, and only four years before her own death. The poem was essentially forgotten for 20 years, after which Lazarus’ friends lobbied to have it emblazoned on a bronze plaque and hung in the museum inside the pedestal. From there, it went on to define not just the monument but also the country’s immigration policy.

“The New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


It’s the birthday of environmental writer Wendell Berry, born in Port Royal, Kentucky (1934). Berry publishes poetry, essays, and novels, most of which reflect his concern for the natural world and the ways we interact with it. Berry continues to live and work on his farm in his hometown.

Berry said, “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”

He said, “You can best serve civilization by being against what usually passes for it.”

And he said, “Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.”


It’s the birthday of the great French short-story writer Guy de Maupassant, born Henry-René-Albert-Guy de Maupassant in Normandy (1850). Mentored by Gustave Flaubert and befriended by Émile Zola, Ivan Turgenev, and Henry James while Maupassant toiled as a lowly government clerk, the French writer joined the ranks of his famous benefactors in 1880 when he published a collection of stories on the Franco-Prussian war. The title story, “Boule de Suif,” takes its name from the main character, a prostitute hypocritically shunned by her fellow stagecoach passengers; a literal translation of her nickname is “Ball of Suet” or “Ball of Fat.” The name was a compliment — an ample woman was a rarity in that time of hardship — and the portrait was deeply sympathetic.

Maupassant wrote feverishly for the next decade, completing six novels, three travel books, one book of poetry and another of plays, plus the 300 short stories for which he is best remembered. He attained that rarest achievement for a writer: fame and fortune, critical and popular success, all in his own lifetime. And yet his prosperity, complete with a private yacht he named Bel Ami (Fair Friend), could not be fully enjoyed. Maupassant felt the first effects of syphilis in his mid-20s; by his late 30s, the disease was progressing to its final stage. His eyesight weakening, his paranoia growing, Maupassant’s writing became increasingly dark and preoccupied with madness. After a failed attempt to shoot himself in the head, he stabbed his own throat, and survived only to be locked in an insane asylum. The last entry in his medical report, written shortly before his death at the age of 42, said, “Monsieur de Maupassant is degenerating to an animal state.”

He wrote, “A sick thought can devour the body’s flesh more than fever or consumption.”

And he wrote, “Great minds that are healthy are never considered geniuses, while this sublime qualification is lavished on brains that are often inferior but are slightly touched by madness.”


It’s the birthday of writer and editor Conrad Aiken, born in Savannah, Georgia (1889). Possessed of the idea to become a poet when he was just nine years old, Aiken set about improving himself with great determination and discipline. While an undergraduate at Harvard, he gave himself a writing exercise to perform every day of the year, training himself in everything from free verse to villanelles and ballad forms. Years later, when he mentored the young writer Malcolm Lowry, Aiken issued Lowry similar exercises. Aiken produced a number of short-story collections, novels, reviews, and essays — and, as the editor of a collection of Emily Dickinson poems, is credited with having established her posthumous reputation. Today, he is most appreciated for being a poet’s poet; one who received many literary awards and influenced writers like his dear friend T.S. Eliot, but never achieved real popularity himself.

Some blame this on Aiken’s use of formal conventions and sound, less en vogue at the time he wrote, and his preoccupation with psychoanalysis. He was a reader of Freud and plagued by fears of insanity. His life and writing had been shaped by a tragic incident when he was only 11. Hearing two gunshots silence his parents’ argument, the young Aiken discovered his father had murdered his mother and committed suicide and, as he later wrote about that day in his autobiography, “finding them dead, found [myself] possessed of them forever.”

 

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®


Rest in Peace, Butch Thompson

 

The most elegant gentleman to come out of Minnesota, Mr. Butch Thompson, died yesterday in St. Paul. He picked up the New Orleans spirit listening to Jelly Roll Morton 78s and carried it through the 20th into the 21st century. He was a pianist and a clarinetist, the piano for the bounce, the clarinet for the blues, and if he could've he would've played both at the same time. We worked together for years, a quiet man, and I never knew him except through his music. God bless the memory, God preserve the music.

–GK

Born and raised in Marine-on-St. Croix, a small Minnesota river town, Butch Thompson was playing Christmas carols on his mother’s upright piano by age three, and began formal lessons at six. He picked up the clarinet in high school and led his first jazz group, “Shirt Thompson and His Sleeves,” as a senior.

After high school, he joined the Hall Brothers New Orleans Jazz Band of Minneapolis, and at 18 made his first visit to New Orleans, where he became one of the few non-New Orleanians to perform at Preservation Hall during the 1960s and ’70s.

In 1974, he joined the staff as the house pianist of public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion. By 1980, the show was nationally syndicated, and the Butch Thompson Trio was the house band, a position the group held for the next six years.

From the early days on APHC, Butch remembers, “It was pretty casual back then. Margaret or somebody would call me and ask if I was busy on Saturday. More than once I remember saying I couldn’t get there by showtime, and being told to show up as soon as I could. Sometimes I’d go onstage without remembering what key something was in. If Garrison was going to sing, I usually couldn’t go wrong with E major.”

By the late ’90s, Thompson was known as a leading authority on early jazz. He served as a development consultant on the 1992 Broadway hit Jelly’s Last Jam, which starred Gregory Hines. He also joined the touring company of the off-Broadway hit Jelly Roll! The Music and the Man, playing several runs with that show in New York and other cities through 1997.

The Village Voice described Butch’s music as “beguiling piano Americana from an interpreter who knows that Bix was more than an impressionist and Fats was more than a buffoon.”

 


 

 

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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

 

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Forget about songwriting. Try fiction

The word from people who know is that Taylor Swift is working with younger edgier indy artists, trying to stay relevant, hoping to hang on in today’s rapidly shifting pop culture, trying to free herself from the bonds of the narrative lyric and pick up the style of spatter imagery. Miss Swift is 32.

So forget about songwriting. Thirty-two is much too young for irrelevance. In solid professions such as medicine, engineering, law, the humorous essay, you’re just hitting your stride at 32. Miss Swift’s problem is that she prospered for years appealing to 11-year-old girls but now much of her audience is in its early twenties and doesn’t want to be in the same demographic with 11-year-olds so she needs to change the act to drive away the children, make it edgy, frighten the parents.

I see the perils of the music biz while strolling around Central Park on a weekend and passing by kiddie birthday parties where East Side parents have gone to vast expense to celebrate their child’s second or third birthday. The parents are guilty, having hired young women to raise the kiddos, and the lavish party, with catered hot dogs and potato salad and a designer cake, flocks of balloons and streamers, perhaps a mime artist and a monkey, a craft table, a photographer, and a singer, is meant to show the depth of their love. A dozen toddlers sit on the grass, the birthday girl or boy wearing a gold crown, and the singer entertains, and it’s all too obvious: she is talented, beautiful, has a degree in theater, had Broadway ambitions, and now she is performing for two-year-olds, which is like singing to a herd of house cats. She sings her heart out, big projection, great articulation, hoping to impress the mothers standing in back who may hire her for their kids’ birthdays, and she cries, “Let’s all clap our hands!” to kids who don’t know their hands from their feet, and it breaks my heart. Miss Show Biz was a star back in Iola, Kansas, and now she’s a joke: what’s next for her? Singing at birthday parties for dogs?

I intended to move to New York when I was 24 and become a writer and I got myself a room in a rooming house on West 19th and met a serious photographer who drove cab at night to support his wife and two infant daughters living in a squalid tenement on the Lower East Side and taking photographs in the afternoon, black-and-white pictures of street people, most of them as depressed as he. I followed him around for a few days, thinking I’d write about him, but seeing his life up close decided me on going back to Minnesota. A young artist needs friends, supporters, aunts, perhaps a welcoming basement for a while.

Being young and broke in a strange big city with nothing but a distant dream in your pocket is a form of imprisonment and not a course to be taken lightly unless you have a nice trust fund to fall back on. A friend of mine is a successful photographer, also b&w like the cabdriver, but he stayed close to home and married a woman with a good job and they practiced birth control. Twenty years later, the art world started smiling on him.

As for me, I am an heir to the Keiller orange marmalade fortune. The Keillers in Scotland died off and we American Keillors, who were illiterate farmers and misspelled our own name, found a trunk full of stock certificates in a barn in Barnstable belonging to Thomas Keillor in 1774, but Thomas was a Loyalist, opposed to the Revolution, and the shame of this caused many Keillors to change their names. Ralph Waldo Keillor did and Henry Wadsworth Keillor and also George and Martha Keillor. Meanwhile, Thomas fled to Canada with the marmalade stocks, which fell to my grandpa James and then my father John, so my siblings and I are loaded. It’s a long story. And that’s how I financed my career in fiction. My ambition had been to write limericks, but thank goodness I gave that up. There’s no money in it, just misery.

Young men who take up light verse:
It’s not a career, it’s a curse.
Clean rooms or wash dishes,
Rhyme is pernicious,
It’s a huge waste of time, perhaps worse,
A tragic decision
Leading to supervision
In a mental ward by a trained nurse.

Enjoying my irrelevance, thank goodness

“You are the only person I know who gets dressed up to go to the doctor’s,” my wife told me the other day, and I pointed out to her that I was not wearing a tie, only a gray pinstripe suit and white shirt, top button open, and dark cloth shoes, not wingtips. Still she was impressed.

This is a feature of marriage to a much younger woman: her frequent wonderment. I remember Harry Truman, she grew up with LBJ. She’s a late boomer, my generation doesn’t have a name because we predate narcissism, the country was too busy fighting fascism and saving the world, they didn’t bother to hand out generational identities. My wife is astonished that when I visited my grandma on the farm and I had to get up in the night, I went to the foot of the bed and used a chamber pot. To her, this places me back in the 19th century and I don’t mind. Great things happened back then, indoor plumbing being one of them. So I wear a suit to the doctor’s to show him that he’s dealing with a historic personage, a man who carries a piece of our nation’s noble heritage, not some yo-yo or schlump.

I led a free and independent boy’s life, growing up, back before parents read books about parenting, and after my morning chores, I got on a bike and joined other boys and we played cowboys and Indians or we played Civil War, and I usually was an Indian or fought for the Confederacy, so I grew up feeling romantic about Lost Causes. As a white male novelist, I am very comfortable today; my books sell in the low four figures and this gives me the same sense of validation I got when I was nine and fought for Stonewall Jackson.

My wife grew up in a feminist household and so she is the fixer and planner, she walks into a hardware store with complete confidence, she issues crisp orders to plumbers and painters. They glance at me, sitting in a dim corner with a pad and pencil, chuckling to myself, and ask, “Do you need to run this by him?” and she says, “No, he’s an essayist.”

She runs our life while I fight for lost causes, my current one being the plague of impactfulness, the use of “impact” as a verb, mostly by millennials writing mission statements, trying to put some muscle into paragraphs of limp macaroni.

Impactfulness is the result of the flood of Canadians coming over our undefended northern border, tens of thousands of hockey players seeking warmth and music and sophistication, but bringing their Canadian censoriousness with them. Northerners have always claimed moral authority over others, the inevitable result of wall maps and their impactful verticality. I’m from Minnesota, I know about supposed moral superiority, and I know that my crusade will have the impact of wet Kleenex trying to stop a speeding locomotive, that a younger generation is impacting like a steam hammer, or imagines it is, and “impactful” is gaining popularity and my opposition is totally irrelevant.

Well, I enjoy my irrelevance.

I got a letter from a candidate pleading for $25, accusing his opponent of getting millions from wealthy celebs such as Ryan Seacrest and Kendall Jenner and I was pleased that I have no idea who those two are. I am not a TV watcher, I don’t tune in talk shows, I don’t walk around with earbuds. I watched the Jan. 6 hearings, which were riveting television, and I watch baseball, which Abner Doubleday designed for TV. In fact, it’s better on TV because you can turn off the announcers, silence the crowd, walk away during an endless inning and make yourself popcorn with real butter on it and a glass of ice water, chat with your dear wife who is reading through a plumbing supply catalog, step outside and look at the Milky Way, and return to the TV for the 10th inning, the team at bat awarded a baserunner on 2nd, a new rule that makes great sense. (And how many new rules can you say that about?)

It’s a good life, the Seacrestless and Jenner-free life, the woman in charge of practical matters as God intended her to be, the old man penning an essay as the batter lofts a fly to right and the baserunner tags and takes third. Our shortstop comes to bat, swings at the second pitch and makes impact and the runner scores and I’m happy. There’s injustice in the world and plastic particles poisoning the dolphins but I’m okay for now. We’ll get to the rest tomorrow.

Drama is life trying to get our attention

When an old man prepares for open-heart surgery, he maintains a confident demeanor and so does his good wife. He has an excellent surgeon and the procedure has been around since he was a teenager, pioneered by Dr. Walt Lillehei of Minneapolis. All is well. Stay calm and pull your socks up.

The old man is me and Dr. Lillehei attended the University of Minnesota, as I did, but he did not major in English as I did nor did he write surreal poetry and doomsday fiction that took a stab at cynicism. I come from fundamentalist Scots who would’ve looked on heart surgery as a waste of money. The heart is sinful and heart disease is caused by rich living and can be remedied by physical labor, thinner dinners, and prayer. Dr. Lillehei came from progressive Norwegians and he had more curiosity.

I’ve been down this road before, July 2001, under Dr. Orszulak at Mayo, and I rolled into the OR feeling quite chipper, prepared to joke around, and then the anesthesiologist did something and I disappeared. I awoke with an angelic being in blue scrubs whispering to me. I went home for a pleasant couple of weeks lounging in the backyard and resumed life.

Of course I am twenty years older now and things could be different. So the patient tries to gain a clear look at his own life.

It was wildly lucky. I switched from surreal and cynical to light comedy as easily as you’d junk a rusty VW and accept the gift of a Jaguar. I found comedy quite amiable. I worked hard because it offered an escape from a hopeless marriage. I survived some rocky times to earn a pile of money, which I flung in many directions. I bought a mansion that looked like a train station and felt like one too. There was a high wall around the backyard that gave it a penal quality. I bought 80 acres in Wisconsin and put a log cabin on it and discovered that peace and quiet make me uneasy. I took expensive vacations I didn’t enjoy.

What I enjoyed was work. Then I met and married Jenny, who has a forgiving soul and is very funny on top of it. I tell her how much I adore her and she makes a sound like “Hnnh” that always cracks me up. She is a violinist, well-traveled, a New Yorker at heart though she grew up in my hometown so she knows what she’s dealing with. She is a keeper. I feel well-kept.

I am not a forgiving person. I have not yet forgiven two former employees who got me in a shakedown scheme and I made the mistake of settling with them before I had cleared my name. I know I should forgive them before I go under the knife but I don’t know how. The man who cooked up the scheme I sincerely wish would rot in hell but I need to cleanse my heart and have only a short time in which to accomplish this.

Carrying anger in your heart is misery in a bottle and my rector Kate suggested I read Fred Luskin, a psychologist who leads a forgiveness training program at Stanford, if you can imagine such a thing. He put out a book giving nine steps toward forgiveness and No. 3 says that forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation, which is an enormous relief. I envisioned having to put my arms around the traitor and feeling his white beard against my cheek and whispering words of endearment. This would not be within my powers. Mr. Luskin says that forgiveness is for one’s own sake, to restore peace in one’s heart, and is not play-acting. He says, “Forgiveness is for you.” He says, “Make a commitment to yourself to feel better.” I like that. And he is a psychologist so I believe him.

I make myself feel better by thinking about the times I’ve stood in front of a paying audience and hummed a note and sang, “My country, ’tis” and they all joined in and it was so beautiful, people got teary-eyed. It was intermission but instead of heading for the lobby they stood and sang. And maybe Dinah in the kitchen and “She was just seventeen if you know what I mean” and “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder” and it was awesome. It wasn’t what they paid to see, they gave it to themselves. We all sang and found forgiveness in it. When I think of those times, it is well with my soul.

I'm very old, as God knows, and he's watching

I turn 80 in a few days, as I’ve been saying for about six months now and it’s a good age. I don’t think about my health, I am living proof that bad habits don’t matter so long as you give them up soon enough. I am quite happy, a BuddhEpiscopalian who doesn’t care about material things though I do fart a lot. I don’t sit around dreaming of what I might do someday. Someday is now, and what I shall do is enjoy it fully. Nobody expects more of me; if I walk into a room and don’t trip on the doorsill, I’m admired for it. My wife starts talking about air conditioning and then she sees me and says, “But why am I talking to you about it?” I’m from the time when we cooled off by driving around with the windows open. It was a good time, my time. Back in the country I grew up in, namely this one, men didn’t go into schools and shoot little kids, we never imagined such a thing, and what’s the reason? Fewer psychiatric medications? Fewer therapists? No. If drugstores sold licorice-flavored cyanide in drinking glasses, we’d see more of that. I plan to expire before the Supremes decide the Second Amendment guarantees the right to carry knapsacks of dynamite aboard airliners. Why should we give up our rights on the Jetway? On the other hand, I do admit there have been improvements: I was in the Detroit airport, Concourse A, the other day and a man sat at a real piano on a low platform and played music, a very graceful jazzer, nothing about man’s downfall, very danceable, and I put a ten in his jar. It was worth it. It made me feel all cheery in the midst of a merch carnival to hear genuine individual talent. It reminded me of that country I grew up in, when more musicians worked the streets. I wish hitchhiking would make a comeback. In my youth, I was picked up by various men, some of them drunk, and in return for the ride, I listened to whatever they wanted to tell me, which sometimes was a lot. A fair trade. It was an exercise in mutual trust. Then the Seventies came along when young men affected the derelict look and when you look like an outlaw there are no free rides to be had, even if you’re very nice down deep. With age comes a degree of wisdom. You learn to choose your battles carefully and not expend anger on hopeless causes such as fairness and equality and getting your home nice and neat. My battle is against the words “monetize” and “monetization.” What tiresome phony weirdo words they are. Just say “sell” or “cash in” or “earn a truckload of bucks from”! Even “exploit” is better. “Monetize” is an attempt to dignify with pseudo-techno-lingo the common ordinary money grubbing that we all do. Stick “monetize” up your Levis. I am going to the mat on this. I refuse to be friends with or share a cab with or sit on a plane next to a monetizer. “Flight Attendant, take me back to Tourist, a middle seat next to weeping children would be preferable to listening to this idiot vocalize.” And now that I have demonetized you, dear hearts, let me move on to the next battle, which is to establish kindness and amiability among friends and strangers alike. I admit I’m still happy about that cashier at Trader Joe’s who said, “How are you today, my dear?” It reminded me of a bygone time. She was, I believe, a woman and I am, to my way of thinking at least, a man though of course there is fluidity involved, and as we all know, the rules of social exchange between W and M have tightened, so I didn’t ogle, I looked at my shoes and said simply, “Never better.” Which is inoffensive, though untrue. I wanted to hug her and did not. My people weren’t huggers. We were Bible-believing Christians who avoided physical contact lest we contract the religious doubts of the embracee and who knows but what it could be true? My brother was a Bible believer who married a girl who then catholicized him. I could say more but I don’t want to cause trouble. I’m a harmless old man, nattering in the corner. I’ll stop now.  
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Schedule

October 1, 2022

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

The Tabernacle, Mount Tabor, NJ

Mount Tabor, NJ

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Mount Tabor, NJ. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

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 11, 2022

Tuesday

7:00 p.m.

The Holland Theatre, Bellefontaine, OH

Bellefontaine, OH

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Bellefontaine, OH 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 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

October 21, 2022

Friday

8:00 p.m.

The Anthem, Washington D.C.

The Anthem, Washington D.C.

A Prairie Home Companion American Revival comes to The Anthem in Washington D.C. with Ellie Dehn, Billy Collins, Heather Masse, Rob Fisher, Rich Dworsky, Pat Donohue, Fred Newman, Tim Russell and the Friendly String Quartet.

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

November 26, 2022

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Town Hall, New York City

Town Hall, New York City

A Prairie Home Companion American Revival comes to Town Hall in New York City with Christine DiGiallonardo, Heather Masse, Rob Fisher and the Demitasse Orchestra, Rich Dworsky, Walter Bobbie, Sue Scott, Fred Newman and Tim Russell.

November 28, 2022

Monday

8:00 p.m.

McCallum Theatre, Palm Desert, CA

Palm Desert, CA

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Palm Desert, CA for a performance of holiday songs, humor and The News from Lake Wobegon.

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

February 23, 2023

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Clayton Center for the Arts, Maryville, TN

Maryville, TN

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Maryville, TN 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

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Today is the birthday of Ted Hughes, a poet, translator, and children’s writer born in 1930. Hughes said: “The inmost spirit of poetry, in other words, is at bottom, in every recorded case, the voice of pain — and the physical body, so to speak, of poetry, is the treatment by which the poet tries to reconcile that pain with the world.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, August 16, 2022

T.E. Lawrence, better known as “Lawrence of Arabia” was born this day in 1888 in Tremadoc, Wales. His book “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” (1926) was an account of his exploits as a military advisor to Arabs in their revolt against the Turks.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, August 15, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, August 15, 2022

Poet, playwright, and essayist Mary Jo Salter was born on this day in 1954. She counts Emily Dickinson as one of her poetic models, and considers herself a formalist, working with meter and rhyme rather than free verse, crafting quatrains and sonnets and villanelles.

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A Prairie Home Companion: August 20, 2011

A Prairie Home Companion: August 20, 2011

This Compilation show is a mix of performances from The San Diego Civic Theater featuring special guests: The U.S. Navy Band Southwest, Sean and Sara Watkins, Jearlyn Steele, The Duo-Tones, Natalie MacMaster.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, August 14, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, August 14, 2022

The English novelist John Galsworthy was born on this day in 1867. His series “The Forsyte Saga” was turned into a successful BBC adaptation. 18 million people watched it’s 1968 finale.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, August 13, 2022

Novelist Tom Perrotta celebrates his 61th birthday today. Best known for his 2011 novel “The Leftovers” about life on earth after an event takes some, and leaves billions behind.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, August 12, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, August 12, 2022

It’s the birthday of the woman who wrote the lines: “O beautiful for spacious skies, / For amber waves of grain, / For purple mountain majesties / Above the fruited plain!” That’s Katharine Lee Bates, born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod (1859).

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, August 11, 2022

“I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering; surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy!” — Louise Bogan, poet, born on this day in 1897.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Minnesota born poet Joyce Sutphen celebrates 73 years of age on this day. On writing poetry, Sutphen says: “Poetry makes the world real for me […] in the end, it isn’t hard. When I sit down to write a poem, one thing just leads to another.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, August 19, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, August 19, 2022

The poet Ogden Nash was born on this day in 1902. His work leaned towards the humorous. He said: “Middle age is when you’re sitting at home on a Saturday night and the telephone rings and you hope it isn’t for you.” and “A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.”

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Writing

Forget about songwriting. Try fiction.

The word from people who know is that Taylor Swift is working with younger edgier indy artists, trying to stay relevant, hoping to hang on in today’s rapidly shifting pop culture, trying to free herself from the bonds of the narrative lyric and pick up the style of spatter imagery. Miss Swift is 32.

So forget about songwriting. Thirty-two is much too young for irrelevance. In solid professions such as medicine, engineering, law, the humorous essay, you’re just hitting your stride at 32. Miss Swift’s problem is that she prospered for years appealing to 11-year-old girls but now much of her audience is in its early twenties and doesn’t want to be in the same demographic with 11-year-olds so she needs to change the act to drive away the children, make it edgy, frighten the parents.

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Drama is life trying to get our attention

When an old man prepares for open-heart surgery, he maintains a confident demeanor and so does his good wife. He has an excellent surgeon and the procedure has been around since he was a teenager, pioneered by Dr. Walt Lillehei of Minneapolis. All is well. Stay calm and pull your socks up.

The old man is me and Dr. Lillehei attended the University of Minnesota, as I did, but he did not major in English as I did nor did he write surreal poetry and doomsday fiction that took a stab at cynicism. I come from fundamentalist Scots who would’ve looked on heart surgery as a waste of money. The heart is sinful and heart disease is caused by rich living and can be remedied by physical labor, thinner dinners, and prayer. Dr. Lillehei came from progressive Norwegians and he had more curiosity.

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I’m very old, as God knows, and he’s watching

I maintain there is always hope if you look around for it. I read the first few paragraphs of a story in the Times about fungi and how they absorb carbon that might otherwise be airborne and aggravate global warming and they enable plants to survive drought and serve as fertilizers. The headline was Unearthing the Secret Superpowers of Fungus and right there was my source of happiness for the day and I read no farther lest I come across the inevitable Buts and Howevers. My podiatrist says I have fungus under my toenails. This tells me that I shall be able to dance again and maybe run the low hurdles.

It’s good of the Times to offer hope. Usually it’s a downer. You read it and learn that the seas are full of plastic, a carbon cloud is making the glaciers melt, whole species are dying out, and half of our Republican friends believe that Joe and Jill are occupying the White House illegally, so we’re not the United States, we’re the banana republic of Ameragua and bands of revolutionaries will come down from the Sierras to overthrow the tyrants. I’d rather believe in the power of fungus.

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A big event and then a major announcement

I maintain there is always hope if you look around for it. I read the first few paragraphs of a story in the Times about fungi and how they absorb carbon that might otherwise be airborne and aggravate global warming and they enable plants to survive drought and serve as fertilizers. The headline was Unearthing the Secret Superpowers of Fungus and right there was my source of happiness for the day and I read no farther lest I come across the inevitable Buts and Howevers. My podiatrist says I have fungus under my toenails. This tells me that I shall be able to dance again and maybe run the low hurdles.

It’s good of the Times to offer hope. Usually it’s a downer. You read it and learn that the seas are full of plastic, a carbon cloud is making the glaciers melt, whole species are dying out, and half of our Republican friends believe that Joe and Jill are occupying the White House illegally, so we’re not the United States, we’re the banana republic of Ameragua and bands of revolutionaries will come down from the Sierras to overthrow the tyrants. I’d rather believe in the power of fungus.

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Let’s talk about gender, but only for a moment

On summer vacation, I get my news from my wife, which is a great convenience and helps brighten the mood and she’s just read me the story about sharks sighted off the coast and beaches on Cape Cod and Long Island posting warnings to swimmers, which only reaffirms my lifelong aversion to beaches. Lying sunburnt on the sand, looking out at ocean vastness in the company of people who have no business wearing loincloths in public never appealed to me, especially not the vastness part. I am a domestic creature, I love enclosed spaces. I went to Alaska once, checked into a hotel in Homer, ordered room service, sat in my room with the shades drawn, and was quite content.

Now that I know about shark-infested beaches, I have one more reason to stay inland. I don’t want some poor reporter to have to write the second paragraph of my obituary, “Mr. Keillor was eaten by a shark off Jones Beach on Tuesday while wading in a raspberry-colored swimsuit and wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat fringed with straw fronds. A memorial service will be held at a time to be announced later.”

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Listening to that lonesome whistle blow, etc.

I am in the process of packing up and leaving Minnesota where I’ve lived for most of eighty years, which seems dramatic but isn’t since most of my classmates left long ago and Bob Dylan, who overlapped with me at the University of Minnesota, heard the lonesome whistle blow and matriculated his way to New York and if Bob ever wrote a song about hating to leave home, I’m not aware of it. The itinerant life was what he was all about.

I am fond of Minnesota, the home of Hazelden and the recovery industry and America’s front line of defense against the flood of illegals from Canada, which has led to the boom in hockey, the season now extending into summer. It’s the home of Robert Bly, author of Iron John, which was big back when there was a men’s movement but it disappeared due to gender fluidity when masculinity liquified and men were no longer required to be solid granite. I tried to be Agnes for a while but it was too late, I was in my late sixties, stoicism was baked into me, voice-raising drugs had no effect, my eyebrows are bushy, and I hate hockey, which real Minnesota women are very good at.

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Some days are perfect: why not say so?

A summer evening on the porch overlooking the Connecticut River and Her Healthness has relaxed the rules and we’re having beef hamburgers off the grill and corn on the cob slathered in actual butter, not a vegan imitation, and the Parisian niece has baked custard tarts so delicious I decline a second knowing it would push me over the edge into decadence, a gent in capri pants and caftan, smoking a Gauloises in a cigarette holder, listening to the Gypsy Kings on my earbuds, aloof to those around me.

I’ve avoided decadence so far except for a mild addiction to Dairy Queen Blizzards, which so far is under control. I’ve avoided COVID and knee replacement and wood ticks that carry a virus that makes you talk endlessly in run-on sentences about a former president, and so it’s a pleasant evening, and we hear the happy cries of children at an old children’s camp nearby that teaches traditional values of friendship, sharing, good manners, daily chores, curiosity, and creativity. Children are not allowed electronic devices and “social justice” and “healing” are not in the mission statement, presumably “friendship” and “sharing” cover that. The boys and girls wash their faces in the morning in cold water at an outdoor trough. It’s not a church camp so they miss out on Ecclesiastes, but there is an evening campfire and I’m sure I’ve heard “Kumbaya.”

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The author disembarks almost

A beautiful summer day, sitting on a porch in Connecticut, looking at boats anchored in the cove, grateful that I don’t own one. It’s one foolishness I’ve avoided in my life: most of the other numbskull boxes I have checked and as I sit here enjoying the breeze off the water, I torture myself with memories of dumbness, mistaken romances, real estate stupidity, as vivid as the incident on Wednesday when, stepping out of a New York subway car, I paused to make sure it was 42nd, and the subway doors closed on my neck.

Yes, you read that right. I had bags in my hands, and I dropped them to try to pry the doors open, my head poking out, and couldn’t, and then a man pulled them open and I got out, turned and said thank you. He was a construction guy in an orange vest. He looked concerned. Then I remembered that Penn Station is at 34th so I had to catch the next train for one stop. I got on that train and got off without incident. So I’m a man whose head is caught in the doors while getting off at the wrong stop. There are worse things. The guillotine, for one.

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Good manners are a sign of trust, no?

I was in Nashville last weekend and saw an old man wearing a shirt with eagles and red and blue stripes on it and also the preamble of the U.S. Constitution. I did a show there in front of an audience wearing more brightly colored clothes than you’d find up north, including pastels I thought had been outlawed long ago. During the show the audience (at my invitation) sang “How Great Thou Art” and other hymns with such evangelical power I was tempted to come to the Lord then and there except I’d done that already years before. And after the show I drove past two blocks of bars with garish neon signs where everyone in sight was very young and very drunk. So the South is still the South. In New York, the audience would’ve worn a lot of black or tan, the hymn would’ve been sung reluctantly but tolerantly, and you’d have to look far and wide to find universal intoxication. And in all Manhattan you wouldn’t find a shirt like that. Only on Staten Island.

I enjoy living in this country with the rest of you who are not much like me, I truly do, but I do have my limits. I come across nice young women whose arms are covered with tattoos like a child’s doodling and big dark serious ones on their legs, and I wonder why a perfectly nice woman is trying to look like a convicted felon.

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She and I and you and us, all watching TV

I have it on good authority that we now have 26 sets of personal pronouns available in English, including the gender-neutral zie, zim, zer, zis, zieself, and I expect there will be more to come since the spectrum of personal differences is endless. My wife, for example, who is adored by me, I can no longer think of as she or her, lumped in with other women including harridans, hags, harpies and shrews, and so my wife is jen and jer and jenself and several individuals whom I despise are scheiss and scheissen and scheissenself. My fellow tall persons have the pronouns hi and hiya. Height is every bit as crucial an identifier as gender and so is intelligence. I don’t know any people I’d refer to as dem or dose but surely dey’re out there somewhere.

Personal identity is a complex matter and if a pronoun is all you need to validate you, fine. It’d help if you pasted your pronoun on your forehead, but if you feel that would marginalize you or stereotype you, I understand. And now that the Supremes have made it a basic constitutional right to carry a concealed loaded weapon, I predict that we’re going to respect gender identity more than ever. A guy with a .45 under the jacket thereby becomes plural and they is going to be more numerous and you might want to become plural too.

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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

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