The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, February 10, 2020


Sake
by Elizabeth Spires

A squat bottle,
two cups, and us
toasting an anniversary
although we know
the wind may blow
away these walls
of paper, wood, and rock;
and if they fall, we’ll rise
and quickly improvise
a journey down time’s
cold silvery musical stream,
slipping on dripping
stepping-stones, drenched
to the bone until,
shades of our former selves,
we give up the ghost,
our ghastly smiles belying
the cold finality of lying
through centuries side
by side, cheated by time.
What is a marriage?
A promise, a vow never
to forsake the other,
and love a little realm
of light and shadow.
But here, while the sake’s
warm. Drink again.
For your sake. Mine.

 

“Sake” by Elizabeth Spires from A Memory of the Future. W.W. Norton & Co © 2019. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


It’s the birthday of the novelist Mary McGarry Morris, (books by this author) born in Meriden, Connecticut (1943). She’s the author of the big best-seller Songs in Ordinary Time (1995).


It’s the birthday of playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht, (books by this author) born in Augsburg, Germany (1898). In 1922, he won a drama prize for his first two expressionist plays, Drums in the Night and Baal, and followed those with Man is Man (1926). Brecht was a Marxist, and he regarded his plays as social experiments, requiring detachment from his audience, not emotional involvement. His theory of “epic theatre” asks the audience to acknowledge the stage as a stage, the actors as actors, and not some make-believe world of real people.

With Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Brecht sought asylum in Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, journeyed across Russia and Persia, and in 1941, settled in Hollywood. In Germany, his books were burned and his citizenship was withdrawn. It was during this period that he wrote most of his major essays, his poetry, and his great plays, including Mother Courage (1941), The Good Woman of Setzuan (1943), and The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1948).


It’s the birthday of Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad, (books by this author) born in Oslo (1970). She’s best known for her work The Bookseller of Kabul (2003), which was an international best-seller and the best-selling nonfiction Norwegian book of all time.

She’s the daughter of a feminist writer and leftist politician. After college in Norway she began a nomadic existence. She went to China to study Chinese and to Berlin to learn German, Moscow to work for a news agency, and to Belgrade to live in an artists’ colony. She also lived in Mexico, France, and Italy. She’s fluent in five languages, and is “okay,” as she puts it, in four more languages.

She said she got her start as a journalist by pretending to be one, so that she could interview an opposition leader in Boris Yeltsin’s Russia in the early 1990s. She continued with other freelance reporting as a war correspondent, covering Russia’s war on Chechnya by living with Chechen guerrilla fighters in the mountains. She was 24 at the time.

After September 11, 2001, she spent six weeks in rural parts of Afghanistan with the commandos of the Northern Alliance, traveling on the back of trucks and in military vehicles, and sleeping on stone floors and in mud huts. She rode into Kabul with the Northern Alliance in November 2001. She found a great bookstore, a place owned by an elegant, gray-haired, Afghan man who was well-educated and loved to talk about politics and writing.

So she stopped by that bookshop often to peruse the books and to chat with the owner, a man so passionate about books that he’d hid them from police to prevent them from being burned during different sieges — and had gone to prison.

The bookstore owner invited her to a meal with his family. She said, “The atmosphere was unrestrained, a huge contrast to the simple meals with the commandos in the mountains. … When I left I said to myself this is Afghanistan. How interesting it would be to write a book about this family.”

She visited him the next day to tell him about her idea of writing a book about his family. She asked if she could live with him and his family, and follow them around, in order to write this book. He agreed, and she moved in with his extended family in February 2002. She stayed for three months.

The book she wrote about his family, The Bookseller of Kabul, was a huge success. The New York Times called it “the most intimate description of an Afghan household every produced by a Western journalist.” It became an international best-seller, translated into 30 languages, the subject of rave reviews and a book club favorite.

But the thinly disguised bookseller of Kabul, Shah Mohammed Rais — “Sultan Khan” in the book — was not happy about the way he had been portrayed, and flew to Norway to launch his own publicity campaign. He wrote his own book, called Once Upon a Time There Was a Bookseller in Kabul (2007). It’s about how a Norwegian troll visits Afghanistan with preconceived notions, and then abuse his family’s hospitality in order to frame a colorful, detail-oriented portrait to fit those preconceived notions.

Åsne Seierstad’s most recent books are One of Us. The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway (2015) and Two Sisters: A Father, His Daughters, and Their Journey into the Syrian Jihad (2018).

 

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

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 >>>

 

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Time is more like it used to be than it was before

I have suddenly become very easygoing thanks to the black hole in our galaxy out near the constellation Sagittarius that astronomers have provided pictures of, a mass equivalent to four million suns, temps in the trillions, with a gravitational force that bends time, which has given me a larger perspective and made me less intolerant of those who say “less” when they mean “fewer” or those who misuse “who” and “whom,” of whom I know a few, plus aggressive drivers, over-friendly waiters, misplaced glasses, spam, a great many formerly irritating things are less so thanks to this new information and I’m grateful to whomever and whoever provided it.

It’s an enormous universe we’re floating around in. We thought it was a big deal to put men on the moon, but in the greater scale of things, that’s like going out the front door to the mailbox. We’re adrift in a sea of endless ignorance and to me this says, “Enjoy your insignificance. Be contented with what you have.” I have a cup of black coffee, a laptop computer, a grandfather clock whose pendulum ticks off the time without bending it, and from the next room I hear my wife getting dressed. She is an independent woman, curious, venturing, an observer of humanity, who never depended on me for entertainment though we do enjoy each other’s company. For me, she intensifies time greatly, which is even better than bending.

Here in Minnesota time bends often and we may get snow on Opening Day of baseball season or a heat wave in December and we become a cold rainy Georgia. So we’re accustomed to disappointment. What’s bewildering is success. Our parents didn’t prepare us for that. They taught us to endure. So when, as sometimes happens, there is something to celebrate, we are torn: will our jubilation be seen as prideful? Will it be a trigger for people whose self-esteem is low? So we stifle ourselves.

I am facing this problem with my 80th birthday coming up in a few months. I’m a medical miracle. Had I been born thirty years earlier, I’d have died fifty years ago. I should charter a plane and fly my family and several Mayo doctors to a Pacific island with zero light pollution where we can lie at night and be amazed by the trillion brilliant pinpoints of the Milky Way and maybe see Sagittarius and feel young and giddy, but I won’t, and if people congratulate me, I’ll say, “Well, I’ve been lucky so far but you never know, there’s probably a pizza deliveryman out there fated to intersect with me and I’ll perish in a pile of pepperoni.”

I suppose the black hole out there is a challenge to Christian faith, to believe that the Creator of the black hole with its four million suns (which is thought to be one of the smaller black holes in the universe) also sent His Son to this planet to tell people, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” assuming that the kingdom includes those four million suns. It is a great deal for the mind to grasp, especially mine, which in recent weeks has been trying to clear my shelves of unread books that I’ll never read, due to vision problems that make small type illegible due to immaculate degeneration.

By my age, however, faith is a settled matter. Unbelief happens in your twenties and you go along enjoying cool incredulity until something happens, the birth of a child, visions of starry sky, perhaps a grasshopper landing in your palm and eating sugar left over from your cookie and then flying away, and you wander into church and fall in with a bunch of believers, and see as through a glass, darkly, but have faith that someday we’ll behold God face to face.

Meanwhile, time is foreshortened. My middle years are a muddle of chronology, but childhood scenes are in clear focus, the thrill of tobogganing down a steep hill and out onto the frozen Mississippi, the girl in seventh grade who challenged me to wrestle and threw me down and kissed me on the lips. I didn’t resist. And then there was the lunch at Dock’s restaurant thirty years ago where I met a woman and we talked for three hours and we’ve been talking ever since. She is funnier than I and if she ever writes a memoir about our marriage, I think you’ll be well entertained. In fact, I’m writing a blurb now. “The only reason I’d come back to Earth would be to read this book.”

 

If you want a story, sit down and I'll find one for you

Storytelling is an art of necessity that you learn when you are young and come home rather late from lying in the grass with Corinne in her backyard talking and holding her hand, your head on her shoulder, observing the slight rise of her breasts as she breathes, and your mother is at the door, wanting an explanation, and rather than get Corinne on your mother’s list of Temptresses, you invent a story in which you were hitchhiking and a drunk picked you up and he was a veteran of D-Day, wounded by the Nazis in defense of democracy, a good man fallen on hard times, and he was too drunk to drive so you took the wheel and drove him home and listened to his long list of troubles and then had to walk home. True? No. Sinful? Hardly.

Storytelling is crucial in panhandling, something I’ve never done but who knows what the future may hold? A bedraggled couple approach in a parking lot, pushing a baby stroller, and say, “Do you have any money?” This is not a good opening line. You need to say, “I’m sorry but my wife and I came down from Bemidji and slept in the park and our money was stolen during the night and we need to take our baby to University Hospital because he needs to take a blood test. Can you spare twenty dollars for cabfare?” This is a plausible tale, your speaking in whole sentences suggests you’re a reasonable person, not stoned on drugs, and you’ve made a specific request. And there’s a baby in the stroller.

President Biden came to Minneapolis to speak at a memorial service for Walter Mondale and he told a story about his arrival at the Senate at the age of 30, soon after the death of his wife and little girl in a car crash, and how Walter and Joan Mondale befriended him, a genuine loving friendship in the midst of a great deal of false bonhomie, and it was a fine story. The humanity of the man was put forward. People need to see this. There is so much slashing and trashing in public discourse that bears no relationship to reality, it’s all special effects and puppetry.

Say what you will about social media, Facebook is where we go to see video clips of my twin grandnieces Ivy and Katherine scootching around on a blanket on the floor of Hieu and Jon’s apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, two tiny girls who will see the 21st century that I will miss out on, but I need to offer them some family history, since their last name is Keillor too. I could tell them about my grandma Dora Powell and her twin sister, Della, who learned Morse code as children so they could give each other answers to questions on tests. After they grew up, they became railroad telegraphers, under the name D. Powell, sharing one uniform, working morning and evening shifts, and then Dora taught in a country school and boarded with a farmer, James Keillor and his widowed sister Mary, across the road. She could see he was a well-read man who loved history and poetry, and one day he crossed the road to school and proposed marriage and, as she said, she “walked away but not so fast that he couldn’t catch me,” and they kissed and he hitched the horses to the carriage and drove to town and found a man to marry them, and that’s where we come from. They fell in love through dinner-table conversation.

My parents, John and Grace, fell in love in 1931, a farmboy and a city girl, and he courted her by singing hymns with the word “grace” in them. They were in love for five years, unable to marry, no money, needed at home, and one day, driving a double team of horses to haul manure to spread on a relative’s field, coming down a steep hill, the horses bolted and John couldn’t hold them and they galloped wildly home and the wagon crashed in a ditch and he was thrown clear, and after he chased down the horses, he borrowed a car and drove to the city and married Grace. Lying in the ditch, his neck not broken, he felt God’s grace shining on him and against the opposition of both families, the two lovers claimed each other without hesitation. We are soft-spoken stoics, modest to a fault, but capable of deep feeling. We love you girls in Vietnam both dearly.

What are fathers for? Anybody's guess

I took my love to dinner last Sunday and told her what an excellent mother she is and it’s absolutely true, I observed her in action all those years, driving our child to appointments, reading to her, rocking her to sleep, listening to her anxieties, attending numerous meetings with teachers, but then the question of my fatherhood arises and I am pleading the Fifth, so no questions, please, I’m well aware of my inadequacies.

I’m not proud, but after my first cup of coffee, when I sit down at the laptop, my self-esteem problems go away. This is the beauty of writing, it takes the mind off one’s failures, failure is simply valuable material for comedy, and thanks to my long-standing habit of never reading my own books, I am perpetually hopeful. When I sit down to write, I am 27 again. Everything is possible.

I made a living in radio and writing fiction, neither of which demand strong character. And now I’m embarked on a new career as an octogenarian stand-up and when I say to the audience: “There was an old man of Bay Ridge who cried out, ‘Sonuvabitch! I got up in the night and on came the light and I find I have peed in the fridge’” and the audience laughs aloud, even the Lutherans, I’m completely unselfconscious. I got the laugh and that’s more than enough, it doesn’t matter that I wear this face of failed fatherhood. Maybe the f.o.f.f. is an asset in comedy.

Vanity is useless for a man my age, like walking around with a bowling ball. Set it down. Get over yourself. A child who has an excellent mother is going to be okay, the father can go write novels. My dad was a good man but he had six kids and I cannot recall a single time when he sat down and had an earnest conversation with me, he was busy working two jobs and tending his garden. So I found surrogate fathers such as Uncle Don and Mr. Faust my history teacher and Bob Lindsay who taught journalism and Irv Letofsky at the paper where I worked and my editor Roger Angell, and that is a great wealth of fatherliness, one really can’t ask for more.

A few town mothers in my hometown were responsible for the cultural life, whatever there was, and then the town fathers destroyed all the magnificent 19th-century buildings, the Carnegie library, the county courthouse, several fine churches, some downtown business blocks, and replaced them with generic boxes. Our great-grandfathers had sought to ennoble the commoners and our fathers trashed the place, and now it’s a hollow shell in the suburban sprawl. You could drive through it and never notice it’s there. So I never go back.

Some things you need to do for yourself, no father can help. I quit a three-pack-daily smoking addiction one day and it disappeared in about a week. I discarded alcohol on my own. I was afraid of being a hopeless alkie, someone who can’t quit booze, so I quit rather than be hopeless. I didn’t want to go to AA and hear sad stories and have to tell my own, so I skipped ahead to sobriety.

When COVID appeared, my love and I went into semi-isolation and the clock became irrelevant, and after decades of hecticity, COVID gave us the simple peasant life of couplehood in our thatched hut of a New York apartment. I was a failed father but I aim to be a good husband. The woman deserves no less. I even wrote her a poem.

M is for her double gin martini.
O is for the onyx diamond pin.
T is for the tiny black bikini.
H is for her handbag, leopardskin.
E is for the emeralds on her finger.
R is for her brand-new red Ferrari.
I’m her lover, writer, passenger, and singer,
And for my failures I am truly sorry.

Father’s Day is sometime in June, I forget when, because we’ve never observed it. Compared to pregnancy and childbirth, the donation of sperm is incidental. She heard the cry from the crib and went up and rocked the child to sleep and I heard the siren call of notoriety and hit the road and wrote on planes and in hotel rooms and walked onstage and did monologues and loved the whole long trek and was it worth it? The jury is still deliberating. But when the woman walks into the room and puts her hands on the man’s shoulders, it’s a beautiful day already.

 

Nobody asked, but I'll tell you anyway 

I come from Minnesota, the modest K-shaped state with the bump on top, sitting on the front line of defense against Canada, predominantly white Protestant but trying not to be too obvious about it, maybe grow a beard and eat oysters on the half shell and read poetry to raise questions in people’s minds. Sometimes we’re called the North Star State, sometimes the Gopher State, but really we’re the Recovery State, where Hazelden was born and various programs for curing chem-dep and other addictions. AA is big. There are thousands of big rooms full of folding chairs where people hear accusatory talks and then break up into discussion groups.

Bob Dylan was from here but he loved Woody Guthrie, the itinerant life, the train whistle in the night, surrealist poetry, none of which are popular here, and we have no idea where he is now. Some say he has a big farm near Moose Lake but who cares? Prince was a greater musician but came to a tragic end, there being no good recovery program for addicts so rich and famous. Fitzgerald is our one great writer in the American Pantheon and he was good but no Hemingway.

We are a producer of losing presidential candidates, McCarthy and Humphrey in 1968, Mondale in 1984, and Harold Stassen who unsuccessfully sought the presidency nine times, surely an all-time record. When you are Right and you know it, there is no shame in losing, quite the contrary, and Minnesota is tied with Utah and Vermont as Most Righteous State. Two years ago, when George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis cop, thousands of righteous Minnesotans rioted for days. Cops had killed Black men before but this death was caught on video on a cellphone so it was harder to ignore and thousands of outraged whites went out and burned down their neighborhoods and young Democrats came up with the line “Defund the police,” which will be a millstone around the necks of liberal politicians for years to come and assist a right-wing minority in maintaining power.

Minnesota has had its visionaries, like the Mayo brothers who created a medical clinic organized like a farmers’ co-op, but the Scandinavian Lutheran culture of Good Enough did not encourage breakthrough advances. What do you need a laptop computer for, darling — you already have an Underwood typewriter. And we have a phone in the kitchen — why do you need to carry one in your pocket?

And so we have a serious shortage of billionaires. There’s some old flour and grain money around, a lumber baron or two, and Scotch tape is still selling well, but we lack the oligarchs who might donate a couple billion to the U of M for a Climate Institute or establish a first-class psychiatric hospital. So we make do. It could be worse, as we say. We lie dying and you ask how we feel and we say, “I’ve felt better.” No big deal.

Minnesota is my home forever. The Keillors came in 1880 and spawned me in 1942, a squinty country kid riding his bike to the downtown library, skipping his swim lesson at the YMCA to sit and read books and then lying to my mother that I was learning to float. I’ll never be a New Yorker but I live there because it gives me the same wonderment I felt riding my bike up Hennepin Avenue in 1955. I take the B train to the public library and sit among young Asian college kids, none of whom know me from a bale of hay, and in their midst I feel young and ambitious again. I sit down with a page of writing and feel it might turn into something sort of marvelous.

Awards mean everything in the writing biz and if you win a big one, Pulitzer or National Book, you’ll wear it on your sleeve forever after, it will precede your name in every review, but I’m a Midwesterner, suspicious of medals and titles. I only care what my readers think. I only want to be known by my own. When I do readings, I decline an introduction, I just go out and talk and try to make sense.

When I die, my ashes will come back to the little cemetery north of Anoka, where the other Keillors are, and if a kid walks into the Anoka Library and asks for a book of mine, I hope the librarian gives him Boom Town. It’s my best book and I wrote it this year. And now I’m working on two others, but who knows? All I know is that a writer is someone who writes. So off I go. Catch you later.

 

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

June 8, 2022

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.

Tower Theatre, Bend OR

Bend, OR

Garrison Keillor and the Hopefuls (Robin and Linda Williams) comes to Tower Theatre in Bend, OR for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 7:30 PM

buy tickets

June 10, 2022

Friday

8:00 p.m.

Bankhead Theater, Livermore, CA

Livermore, CA

Garrison Keillor and the Hopefuls (Robin and Linda Williams) comes to Bankhead Theater in Livermore, CA for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 7:30 PM

buy tickets

July 10, 2022

Sunday

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.

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

August 20, 2022

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, WI

Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, WI

Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Friends (Fred Newman, Heather Masse, Rich Dworsky, Richard Kriehn & Dan Magraw) bring their show to Big Top Chautauqua for a performance of night of laughter, song and The News from Lake Wobegon.

September 16, 2022

Friday

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

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.

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Writing

Time is more like it used to be than it was before

I have suddenly become very easygoing thanks to the black hole in our galaxy out near the constellation Sagittarius that astronomers have provided pictures of, a mass equivalent to four million suns, temps in the trillions, with a gravitational force that bends time, which has given me a larger perspective and made me less intolerant of those who say “less” when they mean “fewer” or those who misuse “who” and “whom,” of whom I know a few, plus aggressive drivers, over-friendly waiters, misplaced glasses, spam, a great many formerly irritating things are less so thanks to this new information and I’m grateful to whomever and whoever provided it.

It’s an enormous universe we’re floating around in. We thought it was a big deal to put men on the moon, but in the greater scale of things, that’s like going out the front door to the mailbox. We’re adrift in a sea of endless ignorance and to me this says, “Enjoy your insignificance. Be contented with what you have.” I have a cup of black coffee, a laptop computer, a grandfather clock whose pendulum ticks off the time without bending it, and from the next room I hear my wife getting dressed. She is an independent woman, curious, venturing, an observer of humanity, who never depended on me for entertainment though we do enjoy each other’s company. For me, she intensifies time greatly, which is even better than bending.

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If you want a story, sit down and I’ll find one for you

Storytelling is an art of necessity that you learn when you are young and come home rather late from lying in the grass with Corinne in her backyard talking and holding her hand, your head on her shoulder, observing the slight rise of her breasts as she breathes, and your mother is at the door, wanting an explanation, and rather than get Corinne on your mother’s list of Temptresses, you invent a story in which you were hitchhiking and a drunk picked you up and he was a veteran of D-Day, wounded by the Nazis in defense of democracy, a good man fallen on hard times, and he was too drunk to drive so you took the wheel and drove him home and listened to his long list of troubles and then had to walk home. True? No. Sinful? Hardly.

Storytelling is crucial in panhandling, something I’ve never done but who knows what the future may hold? A bedraggled couple approach in a parking lot, pushing a baby stroller, and say, “Do you have any money?” This is not a good opening line. You need to say, “I’m sorry but my wife and I came down from Bemidji and slept in the park and our money was stolen during the night and we need to take our baby to University Hospital because he needs to take a blood test. Can you spare twenty dollars for cabfare?” This is a plausible tale, your speaking in whole sentences suggests you’re a reasonable person, not stoned on drugs, and you’ve made a specific request. And there’s a baby in the stroller.

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What are fathers for? Anybody’s guess

I took my love to dinner last Sunday and told her what an excellent mother she is and it’s absolutely true, I observed her in action all those years, driving our child to appointments, reading to her, rocking her to sleep, listening to her anxieties, attending numerous meetings with teachers, but then the question of my fatherhood arises and I am pleading the Fifth, so no questions, please, I’m well aware of my inadequacies.

I’m not proud, but after my first cup of coffee, when I sit down at the laptop, my self-esteem problems go away. This is the beauty of writing, it takes the mind off one’s failures, failure is simply valuable material for comedy, and thanks to my long-standing habit of never reading my own books, I am perpetually hopeful. When I sit down to write, I am 27 again. Everything is possible.

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Nobody asked, but I’ll tell you anyway

I come from Minnesota, the modest K-shaped state with the bump on top, sitting on the front line of defense against Canada, predominantly white Protestant but trying not to be too obvious about it, maybe grow a beard and eat oysters on the half shell and read poetry to raise questions in people’s minds. Sometimes we’re called the North Star State, sometimes the Gopher State, but really we’re the Recovery State, where Hazelden was born and various programs for curing chem-dep and other addictions. AA is big. There are thousands of big rooms full of folding chairs where people hear accusatory talks and then break up into discussion groups.

Bob Dylan was from here but he loved Woody Guthrie, the itinerant life, the train whistle in the night, surrealist poetry, none of which are popular here, and we have no idea where he is now. Some say he has a big farm near Moose Lake but who cares? Prince was a greater musician but came to a tragic end, there being no good recovery program for addicts so rich and famous. Fitzgerald is our one great writer in the American Pantheon and he was good but no Hemingway.

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Driving across Indiana today

I come from low-key Minnesotans who like to end a sentence with then or now — “So what are you up to then?” — which is intended to soften the question and avoid an accusatory tone and if you said, “Oh, just waiting to see what turns up,” they might say, “Sounds good then,” so when I heard that the Supremes plan to toss out Justice Harry Blackmun’s decision in Roe v. Wade, I thought, “So what kind of a deal is that then, for crying out loud,” which is my people’s idea of profanity but doesn’t call down fire and brimstone then.

He was a low-key Minnesota Republican who grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood of St. Paul and got scholarshipped to Harvard and returned to Minnesota to be resident counsel at the Mayo Clinic, and the heart of Roe v. Wade is the reluctance to interfere in a woman’s intimate life and dictate the answer to an agonizing question, which reflects a Midwestern temperament. We would interfere with a big kid bullying a little kid, or a child torturing an animal, or some other act of cruelty we witness, but the Mississippi law the Supremes are prepared to uphold is a radical invasion by the state of a woman’s life. That’s what sort of deal it is.

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Kindness: you look and you’ll see it.

I’ve been a rhymer ever since I was twelve and read the limerick about the young girl of Madras who had a remarkable ass and so when I read about a trans legislator in Kansas, it started my engine, but she turns out to be a nice woman named Stephanie Byers (choirs, lyres) who is only advocating kindness for her kind, no big deal in my book, and I looked up the girl from Madras. It’s one of the only limericks that accuses the reader of unseemly thoughts — her ass is “not soft, round, and pink as you probably think, but the kind with long ears that eats grass,” and I loved this as a kid, having grown up evangelical and knowing something about righteous fever.

I’ve gone through my own fevers back in my youth, I marched, I manifestoed, and I am still capable of high dudgeon, but I’ve come to have a higher regard for kindness than righteousness, especially the sort that burns other people at the stake, which we see more of these days.

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One more word about Twitter, then I’ll shut up

I once knew a librarian who at age 34 fell in love with a poet she met in a bar who, though sober, announced that he adored her. For years she’d only dated men who were looking for a sympathetic sister, but this fellow lusted after her and suddenly she was shopping for a bigger bed and learning to samba. The problem was that his poems were bleak and not ingeniously bleak but dull bleak, disconnected dark images of dread and dismay. He wrote one for her and she said, “It’s nice,” and he said, “I can tell you don’t like it,” and she said, “It’s sort of dark,” and he ran out the door (he was living with her) and she hasn’t heard from him since.

It can be dangerous to tell the truth. Why couldn’t she have said, “I love it, it’s one of your best”? His poems weren’t hurting anybody. Polar bears weren’t dying from them, they weren’t poisoning the rivers. Let the man be a bad poet and eventually he’ll find his way into marketing or lawn mowing or some other gainful employment.

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What macaroni and cheese means to me

Men my age are not riding high these days compared to back in the Renaissance or the 19th century so I am taking a back seat and not getting fussed up. I appreciate new stuff like YouTube and the Unsubscribe option and the peanut butter latte, but I don’t know who famous people are anymore — Abe Lincoln, Al Kaline, A.J. Liebling are on my A-list but I wouldn’t know Adele if she walked up and offered me her autograph. I’m out of it. So I keep my mouth shut. I’ve listened to people discussing their loyalty to particular coffees from specific regions of Kenya or Nicaragua and I don’t weigh in on this. I’d be okay with Maxwell House Instant. Coffee is coffee. Debating it is like arguing about doormats. You walk in, you wipe your feet, it’s not a transformative experience. I feel the same way about gender: it’s your beeswax, not mine. Be who you want to be but don’t expect me to call you them or it or us.

I drink coffee because it is a warm liquid and I accept the myth that it enlivens the brain though probably hot water from the tap would serve as well. My coffee habit is a cultural choice: I don’t want to be part of the tea crowd, it’d mean I’d have to have a ponytail and wear linen clothing and have a cockadoodle named Josephine. I drink coffee and have short hair and jeans with a hole in the knee.

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The country’s problems solved in 800 words

I was in Minnesota for a while in April but weather systems can’t read a calendar and they were delivering more of November, which is satisfying to us Minnesotans. We are great complainers. God made children short so they wouldn’t have far to fall and God put us in Minnesota because joyfulness is absolutely not our thing, Easter is a holiday we dread, the enforced jubilation, the trumpets in the choir loft, and when you wake up Easter morning and a cold rain is falling it’s very very satisfying.

I went to Minnesota alone and it was interesting discover that without my wife, I don’t know where things are or how to get the washer to work when it stops in mid-cycle and won’t resume. I can’t make sense of the instruction manual so I call her back in New York and she tells me to press START and hold it in and I do and the washer resumes. It’s downright embarrassing — my dad did his own auto repair and carpentry and I can’t operate an automatic washer. Thank goodness I still have a sense of shame.

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Enough about that, let’s talk about happiness

You come to a point in life when the days of wild uninhibited sex seem to be behind you, either because she is no longer moved by your singing, “Oh my love, my darling, I hunger for your touch,” or the flaming torches on the bedposts seem hazardous and you put the theatrics aside and discover that holding her close and stroking her arm are just as wonderful, perhaps even more so.

Small things can make me so happy. I’ve recently discovered this. I once had a book that was No. 1 on the Times best-seller list and of course I’d love to have another, but meanwhile I made myself tremendously happy the other day by switching from a $110 room in an old run-down hotel to a $170 room in a new hotel. I was feeling low because I’d been away from my sweetie for two weeks and was on the road and the $110 room was small, not big enough to swing a cat, and the shower was tricky and the desk chair wouldn’t raise so I was typing at an unnatural angle and there was no room service so I switched to a hotel two blocks away that was spacious and light and the shower and desk chair worked and a cheerful woman brought me a BLT and coffee, and I felt absolutely wonderful. I believe the word would be “exalted.” Sixty dollars is not too much to pay for exaltation in my book.

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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. 

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