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
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
Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Peekskill NY. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unite us.
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
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.
The Blessing of the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog
by Alicia Suskin Ostriker
To be blessed
said the old woman
is to live and work
washes right through you
like milk through a cow
To be blessed
said the dark red tulip
is to knock their eyes out
with the slug of lust
To be blessed
said the dog
is to have a pinch
and all the other dogs
can smell it
“The Blessing of the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog” by Alicia Suskin Ostriker, from The Book of Seventy. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Today we celebrate the birthday of musician Huddie William Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, born on or near this day in Mooringsport, Louisiana (1889 or 1888). Lead Belly sang the blues and played the 12-string guitar, harmonica, violin, piano, and accordion. From the time he was a teenager he played and sang gospel, blues, cowboy songs, prison work songs, old chants, and pop. He traveled around the South, working in the fields and playing his music on the streets of Shreveport and Dallas.
In 1917 Lead Belly was arrested for murder in Texas and sentenced to a 20-year prison term. He was a model inmate, working hard and frequently entertaining the prisoners, guards, and other guests with his music. When the governor of Texas visited, Lead Belly performed a song he had written for the occasion, comparing his own situation with that of Paul and Silas in the Bible who were imprisoned and set free when an earthquake broke their chains. The governor returned several times to hear Lead Belly perform, and eventually issued him an outgoing pardon — despite the fact that the governor had run on a platform of issuing no pardons to criminals.
In 1930 Lead Belly was sent to Angola Prison Farm in Louisiana for the attempted murder of a white man. Three years later a former college professor named John Lomax and his son Alan showed up at Angola to record folk songs. They arrived in an old pickup truck with an unwieldy recording device they had borrowed from the Library of Congress. They recorded Lead Belly performing seven songs, including the waltz “Goodnight, Irene.” The Lomaxes returned a year later to record again and Lead Belly included a song he had written especially for the governor of Louisiana, hoping to receive a pardon as he had in Texas. The Lomaxes took his song to the governor, and he was pardoned a month later, but it turned out to be just a coincidence. After his release from prison, Lead Belly became a famous musician, playing for huge crowds across the country. His most famous songs include “The Midnight Special,” “Rock Island Line,” and “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”
It’s the birthday of Edward Hirsch (1950) (books by this author), born in Chicago, Illinois. He studied at Grinnell College in Iowa and at the University of Pennsylvania where he earned a Ph.D. in folklore. He’s been a chronic insomniac since childhood and the motif of sleeplessness often finds its way into his poems. His first book, For the Sleepwalkers, was published in 1981. Other collections include Wild Gratitude (1986), The Night Parade (1989), Earthly Measures (1994), On Love (1998), Lay Back the Darkness (2003), and most recently, Special Orders (2008), Gabriel: A Poem (2014) and Stranger by Night (2020).
He started to write poetry as a teenager, not because he wanted to be a poet but because he was trying to find a way to cope with the turbulent feelings of adolescence. Later he showed some of his poems to a teacher at Grinnell who told him, “These aren’t poems; these are diary entries” and sent him off to read some of the great poets.
“I then let the poetry itself be my guide, the poetry itself teach me how to read it. Later, when I was in my late 30s and early 40s I was thinking back to that boy I was and I was thinking, ‘You know, a guide would have been a help, and I think readers could use some help.’”
In 1999 he published that guide: a book called How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry. It was an instant best-seller and has had several printings.
He told Contemporary Authors, “I would like to speak in my poems with what the Romantic poets called ‘the true voice of feeling.’ I believe, as Ezra Pound once said, that when it comes to poetry, ‘only emotion endures.’”
It’s the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Robert Olen Butler (books by this author), born in Granite City, Illinois (1945). He won the Pulitzer Prize for short fiction in 1993 for his collection A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain (1992).
Butler’s first novel, The Alleys of Eden, was published in 1981 after 21 publishers had turned it down. It was the first book in what would become a Vietnam trilogy. The novel received very good reviews but it sold only a few thousand copies. He wrote six novels before winning the Pulitzer Prize, but it was only after the award that he achieved any commercial success from his writing.
Butler says, “I didn’t sell much for a long time. And before I sold that first novel, I wrote five ghastly novels, about 40 dreadful short stories, and 12 truly awful full-length plays, all of which have never seen the light of day and never will.” Butler went on to write another collection of short stories, called Tabloid Dreams (1997), in which all the stories are based on actual headlines he had seen in grocery store tabloid newspapers. His latest novel, Late City, came out in 2021.
It’s the birthday of novelist Susan Vreeland (books by this author), born in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1946. She grew up in California, became a teacher, and for 30 years she taught English and ceramics in the San Diego public schools. She wrote a book called What Love Sees (1988) based on the true story of her parent’s friends, a couple who were both blind but who managed a ranch and raised children with the help of a Seeing Eye cow. But she was also busy with her teaching and for a while, she wrote occasional stories or articles, but not much else.
Then, in 1996, she was diagnosed with lymphoma. She had chemotherapy and operations and for a few months she couldn’t do much but read, and even that was hard for her. So instead she paged through art books, and she especially liked Vermeer, whose paintings were so calming. She needed more treatment and she had to take off another year of teaching and so she started writing stories based on Vermeer. Vermeer only painted 35 paintings, so Susan Vreeland imagined that he had painted one more. She wrote a story about that, and then several more stories about Vermeer and the imagined 36th painting and the people who owned it over the years. She said:
“My goal at the time wasn’t to create a novel that would make it out in the big world. It was to have enough time left in my life to finish this group of stories and print out 12 copies, so my husband could give them to members of my writing group so they’d have something to remember me by.”
She did finish them and she turned them into a novel and a tiny publishing house in Denver agreed to publish the novel, Girl in Hyacinth Blue (1999). It became a bestseller. Her last novel before her death is Lisette’s List (2014).
It’s the birthday of Italian film director Federico Fellini, born in Rimini, Italy (1920). He became famous for his film La Dolce Vita (1960). He was a charming man who always wore a wide-brimmed black hat and gestured with both hands, even while driving one of his favorite motorcars. He overdubbed all his actors’ voices because he believed that most people didn’t have voices that matched their appearance. He said, “All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.
Today is the birthday of novelist Tami Hoag (books by this author), born Tami Mikkelson in Cresco, Iowa (1959). She grew up in a tiny town called Harmony, Minnesota, and she made up stories to entertain herself because there wasn’t much to do in Harmony. Her high school guidance counselor suggested that she become an actress but Hoag thought that was too impractical. She ended up as a writer instead — which isn’t very practical either, she admits, but adds, “At least I’m not obligated to look good on a daily basis.”
She wrote, illustrated, and self-published her first book, Black Pony, as a third-grade school project when she was nine years old, but she made a proper career out of writing starting in her 30s as an author of romance novels. After about 20 romance novels she tried her hand at a thriller instead. Night Sins was published in 1988 and it made the New York Times best-sellers list — just like 14 of the books that followed it. It usually takes Hoag six to nine months to write a book and by the time she sends the manuscript to her publisher she’s worn out. “It’s like ten rounds with Mike Tyson,” she says. “I’m crawling out of my office. It’s a brutal experience.”
Her most recent book is Bad Liar (2020).
It’s the birthday of actor and comedian George Burns (1896). He and his wife, Gracie Allen, were one of the most successful comedic pairings in history. They toured the vaudeville circuit together for years, fine-tuning an act in which Burns played the long-suffering husband of scatterbrained Gracie, who earned big laughs saying things like, “I put straw in the water when I boil eggs so they’ll feel at home.” During the 1940s more than 40 million people a week tuned into their show on NBC Radio.
Burns was born Nathan Birnbaum. His family called him Nattie and he grew up on Pitt Street on New York City’s Lower East Side. His father was a cantor and a coat presser and Nattie started working at seven years old making syrup, selling newspapers, and shining shoes. He got his famous last name because he and a friend collected so much spare coal off the street that neighborhood kids called them “The Burns Brothers,” after the Burns Brothers Coal Company. Burns was resourceful and funny and even opened his own dance studio when he was 13. He called it “B-B’s College of Dancing” and his clients were immigrants fresh from Ellis Island. He and a friend lured them to the studio by telling them that a $5.00 course of dance lessons was required for U.S. citizenship.
Burns was discovered by a talent scout while singing harmony in the basement with other boys during a break from his job. Customers would gather at the top of the stairs and throw money down to them. They started calling themselves “The Pee-Wee Quartet” and, soon enough, Burns was on the vaudeville circuit performing with a seal and doing trick roller-skating. He had lots of stage names, like Willy Delight, Captain Betts, and Buddy Links.
When he met Gracie Allen she already had four years of vaudeville under her belt. They hit it off, got married, and started making people laugh with routines about married life. One of their routines went like this:
George: “Gracie, suppose you start explaining these Christmas bills. Who got this $25 hat?”
Gracie: “I gave that to Clara Bagley. I’ve decided to break up our friendship.”
George: “Then why did you give her an expensive hat?”
Gracie: “I have one exactly like it. When she sees me with it on, she’ll stop speaking to me.”
Burns called Gracie “Googie” and she called him “Nattie.” Their television show, The Burns and Allen Show, was one of the most popular shows of the 1950s. At the end of every show Burns would turn to Allen and say, “Say goodnight, Gracie,” and she would respond, “Goodnight, Gracie.”
When Gracie Allen died, George Burns was bereft. He visited her grave all the time. He still performed in nightclubs and on television and became known for his heavy horn-rimmed glasses, salty humor, and ever-present cigar. He smoked four cigars a day, over 300,000 in his lifetime. He teamed up with Walter Matthau in 1975 for the movie The Sunshine Boys about two aging comedians. He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and said, “I’ve reached the point where I get a standing ovation just for standing.”
He made more movies like Oh, God! (1977) with singer John Denver, and when people said it was sacrilegious to portray God, Burns shrugged and said, “Why shouldn’t I play God? Anything I do at my age is a miracle.” He wrote a best-selling memoir about his life with his wife called Gracie: A Love Story (1988).
George Burns died in 1996 at the age of 100. He was still performing and liked to start his shows by telling the audience, “It’s nice to be here. When you’re 100 years old, it’s nice to be anywhere.”
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®