I heard recently from a friend his recollection of the day many years ago when you were scheduled to give the graduation address at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. As he remembers it, you spoke for just a few minutes and sat down. People were mystified, not to mention greatly disappointed. Have you ever explained what happened?
I don’t recall the day but I must say this is the first time someone has complained about a commencement speech that was too short. I gave plenty of them back in the ’90s and came to feel that (1) there are only so many ways to say “Follow your heart” and (2) the speech is ceremonial, nobody is listening, it’s not about the speaker, so skip the introduction, cut to the chase, say what you want to say, congratulate them, and sit down. GK
I feel as though I know you, having enjoyed reading Post to the Host and listening to PHC for many years. As I cooked meals in the kitchen, I always had your show on (cassette) and when my husband walked in, we would joke about me listening to “my elder boyfriend.” I hope you are not offended. I hold you in the greatest esteem.
I think “uncle” is the word you’re looking for. I am pleased to be the one who talked to you while you cooked. An honor. GK
As a girl of 30, I would sit on the stern of a sailboat in San Francisco Bay and listen to your stories. Each Sunday you had the power to make me homesick for Ohio and the Midwest. I did return there many years later, but the sea still haunted me. Now in my mid-70s, I sit on my porch gazing at Penobscot Bay in Maine and you continue to bring me home through your stories, notes to others, and reminisces.
I thank you for bringing me “home” continually.
P.S. When that knee gets better come on out for lobster and a porch sit.
I’ve often felt I ought to be drawn toward the sea, just as I feel I ought to read Moby-Dick, and somehow it never happens. I never sat on a sailboat on the ocean, only on Midwestern lakes, and that didn’t appeal to me either. My brother Philip loved sailing and I went with him once on a weeklong trip around Lake Superior and slept at night on a sandy beach, which was okay, not bad, but I was glad to get home. I did love doing that radio show though and I’m looking forward to doing some PHCs next year, it’s 50th anniversary. I should tell a story about a girl who sails in San Francisco Bay and longs to be back in Lake Wobegon, especially when the wind blows hard and sharks appear to starboard and the rudder comes loose and is swept away by a wave. Suddenly those cornfields are very appealing to her. GK
I deeply appreciate your email missives; your emphasis on gratitude for what we have is a much-needed balm for the soul in these dark and surreal times. Since you confess to having heard no viola jokes for some time, I offer the following, which I hope you haven’t heard.
Q: Why is the viola larger than the violin?
A: They’re actually the same size; the violinist just has a much bigger head.
Kent, that’s a good one. It’s also one of few viola jokes in which the violist is not the butt of it. The other one is: “Why are viola jokes so short? So violinists can understand them.” My wife is a violinist who took up viola suddenly because a string ensemble needed one for an Asian tour and she wanted the job so she learned it in a week or so of hard work and now she loves playing in the viola section. The sense of comradeship, the lack of hierarchy, is appealing to her. She has complimented other violists and they were very moved — nobody had done that before. The butt of jokes in our house isn’t violists, it’s more likely conductors. GK
GK responded in Post to the Host this morning that a sonnet might fill the bill for a wedding toast. He said he wrote the sonnet but when I googled the title, up popped a Writer’s Almanac crediting someone else … a nom de plume? How many alternate egos has our GK?
If the sonnet you saw was by Gary Johnson, that was by me. GK
Dear Mr. Keillor,
You are my favorite living author (my favorite deceased authors are P.G. Wodehouse and Nevil Shute). My question is, I need something new to read. Who might you suggest — living or not — in the same style as you and these other wordsmiths? Who do you like to read? (I know it should be “whom,” but I didn’t want to sound stuffy.)
Thanks for decades of laughs! Especially WLT — A Radio Romance!
P.S. If you are worried that you will ever be replaced by AI, I asked ChatGPT to write a limerick about you, in the style of you. Here’s what it delivered:
There once was a man named Keillor, Whose voice was a soothing triller. He spun tales on the radio, And made us laugh and glow, A true master storyteller!
I think you are safe.
Take a look at Love Trouble by Veronica Geng and Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis and Coyote v. Acme by Ian Frazier. GK
Here is an idea for a new monolog.
A lonely AI program talking to itself. It can be expanded ad infinitum. A lovesick AI program talking to itself. A regretful AI program, an introspective AI program, etc., etc.
I think this should be written by a robot. It’s only fair. GK
As your Prairie Home Companion has been around for almost 45 years, and was (still is) so popular, were you guiding anyone to fill your shoes, to carry on the show for the next 50 years?
I remember moving from Minnesota to New York City so many years ago, and the first thing everyone asked me, including taxi drivers, was “Do you know Garrison Keillor?”
I hope you said yes and I hope you made up a story about me as a recluse living in a yurt who recorded his monologues on an old Wollensak tape recorder and that the audience laughter came from old tapes of the Jack Benny show. When nothing else works, fiction can come in handy. GK
I began listening to PHC two years into a ten-year prison sentence for a crime of which I’m deeply ashamed. I missed hearing Bluegrass on the radio and began listening (this was the year 2000) and was delighted every Saturday evening. I remain a loyal fan today, fifteen years after my release. (By the way, you should do a prison show!) I now often listen to a PHC rerun while driving (I’m a truck driver) as a bittersweet nostalgic thing.
Thanks for helping keep a prisoner sane for years, and for being a companion on sometimes-lonely roads. I’ve ordered your book on cheerfulness and look forward to reading it like I would a letter from an apostle. Not an apostle of a gilded saint image, but an apostle, elderly and seedy, and physically stumbling as he looks up and basks in the Light of the Glory of God.
Thank you, Garrison.
You astonish me, friend, and I will be thinking about your letter for a long time. I don’t know how I could do a prison show, have no idea how to address that audience. A failure on my part, but there it is. I want the audience to be anonymous ordinary humans, not self-conscious — I’d feel odd in the same way doing a show for CEOs or Phi Beta Kappans, know what I mean? At the best of times, I forget who I am during a show and want the audience to feel likewise. But I am going to be thinking of your letter for a while. GK
I think many husbands and wives aren’t very interested in their spouse’s work. I wondered if your wife plays the violin around your home, and if you find that enjoyable. Does she need a soundproof practice room? Do you attend many of her performances? Does she attend any of your shows, and does she enjoy them? Does she read your books?
She plays viola now and practices at home and I enjoy hearing it and I’ve gone to opera performances where she played in the pit. She comes to many of my shows and enjoys them and is also a very sharp critic. She likes me to read aloud to her whatever I’m writing and I do and she is a good laugher. I don’t know if she reads my books. She reads very widely and reads on a Kindle tablet so I can’t see whether it’s me or someone else, but mostly she doesn’t laugh so I assume it’s someone else. That answer all your questions? GK
Just writing to say that I disagree with your objecting to the John Lennon Imagine Mosaic, which you describe as a memorial. It is no more nor less a memorial than all the other statues erected as a tribute to all the other people in the park. Nor is it any more nor less a memorial than all the many hundreds of donated benches with “memorial” plaques affixed to them commemorating a person or persons.
And while, as you stated, Central Park is not a cemetery, John Lennon is not interred beneath the Imagine Mosaic, so your statement makes no sense.
While I personally think the world would be a much better place if there were NO people, at least some place like the imagine mosaic/memorial is a place where people are maybe at their best — or at least a little better than they generally are. I wonder if maybe it’s the imagining no religion line that gets you?
Wishing you All the Best, Garrison. And hoping your injuries are quickly healing.
Falmouth, Massachusetts/New York, New York
You’re welcome to disagree and you did. GK
Today (5/12) you rhapsodized about Central Park and noted it was not a cemetery. But it IS built over several cemeteries — notable a Black one. The Black village of Seneca was also demolished to make room for Central Park. (See below.)
So what do you say to this? I imagine you will never quite be able to enjoy Central Park as much again, knowing its sordid history. I feel that way.
I’m sorry you don’t enjoy the park. I do. A good many homes and farms were cleared back in the 1860s to make Central Park and it was done in the name of the common good. I look at those vast cemeteries in Queens and Brooklyn and see nobody visiting them and wonder when future generations will decide to remove the stones and make them into playing fields. The idea that each dead person must have a permanent plot of ground seems to be fading, don’t you think? GK
I have to disagree with you about the memorial to John Lennon in Central Park being a bad idea. It feels comforting to have a place to pause, say a prayer, sometimes commune with like-minded folks, even sing along with musicians who are there at times playing and singing his music. It feels good. I am grateful for it.
I don’t mind the Imagine mosaic. I am only wary of fans of other rock stars who might want to make memorials to their heroes. Why not a Tutti-Frutti garden for Little Richard or a Ripple pond for Jerry Garcia or an R-E-S-P-E-C-T mosaic for Aretha? The point of what I wrote is that John didn’t die as a big rock star, he died as a human being, a father, husband, friend, neighbor, a New Yorker, and I grieve for all those beautiful days he lost. GK
I thoroughly enjoy your penchant for beginning each of your essays with those long run-on sentences our English teachers always exhorted us to avoid by the liberal use of periods and other perfunctory endings designed to slice sentences up into bite-sized chunks of meaning that the poor reader might easily swallow, yet which so easily rob them of all life, reducing sentences to mere snippets of information instead of the windows into the minds and hearts of their writers they were meant to be.
It’s disarming because it’s natural. It’s also a lost art. I’ve read many wonderful authors, long dead, whose run-on sentences are things of beauty.
So keep on running on.
Mahalo from Kaneohe, Hawaii,
Thanks for that first paragraph, Isaac. Masterful. GK
Dear Mr. Keillor:
Years ago in, I believe, a Terry Gross interview, she asked you if you had any unfulfilled goals or achievements and you answered to the effect that you hadn’t been fired and that at your age given what you did it was unlikely that you would be.
Events, it seems conspired in a way that one might say you finally were.
I am wondering what now remains on your bucket list.
My goal is to reach ninety and still be writing and doing shows, most marbles intact, reciting poems, telling stories, and giving audiences a chance to sing songs in a cappella harmony. And then to come home and crawl into bed next to my sweetheart who is up late reading a book and she turns and asks, “How was it?” and I tell her it was not bad. GK
I just read your column about listening to “wicked” jazz while a young Sanctified Brother, and it reminded me of a Mennonite joke, since Mennonites traditionally shared similar attitudes about the general culture, including deep suspicion about the perils of dancing.
The joke goes: why should Mennonites never have sex standing up? Because it might lead to dancing … ba doom ba!
That’s how we know that Adam was Mennonite: who else would be alone with a naked woman and be tempted by a piece of fruit? GK
I have enjoyed your work over the years as an ex-pat Minnesotan living on the west coast of Canada. Now that we have entered the AI age of ChatGPT and such, how do you feel about computers digesting your collected works and, on command, replicating your style and humour in an endless extension of the Wobegon News? Imitation is flattering but a clever algorithm would, I think, find it difficult to replicate the humanity of your stories. On the other hand it would be good to know how Paster Liz is getting on now in woke Lake Wobegon.
Check this blank ___ if you are not a robot. GK
Dear Mr. Keillor,
I’ve just moved to New York City and gotten a job at a magazine, making just enough money to be alive here, which I guess was the plan all along.
What books do you recommend I pick up at this stage in my life? Hope all is well with you. And if you ever want to grab a beer or coffee I would of course be humbled before the opportunity.
You certainly should read up on the history of the city, from colonial times on, the tides of change in the 19th century, the draft riots, the barons of industry, the waves of immigrants, the show biz, the long-standing ethnic ghettoes, which will make your walks around town more meaningful. My wife came here as an idealistic young person and found that walking for miles was the best way to deal with loneliness and poverty and in that way she came to be fascinated by the variety of humanity to be found on foot in New York, something that distinguishes it from other cities. As for the coffee, drop me a line and we’ll find a time. GK
Dear Mr. Keillor,
I just finished listening to the sing-along from the Ryman Auditorium on YouTube. My grandparents lived in Nashville and went to the Ryman frequently. Thank you for singing faith and patriotic songs of my youth. God Bless you! You are like a fine wine improving with age! I hope I am too!
It’s an odd custom I picked up at big outdoor shows like Tanglewood and Wolf Trap and Ravinia and the crowd didn’t want to leave when the show was over and we didn’t have any encores ready and so I just went out and hummed a note and we sang America and The Battle Hymn of the Republic and How Great Thou Art and In My Life and anything else that came to mind. They sounded SO GOOD, it was very very moving. And they were moved too. Mennonites are amazing, so are Lutherans, New Yorkers a little reluctant, but I’m trying to keep the idea alive. GK
My favorite News monologue of all time was on November 6, 1999, a show with Del McCoury and Kelly Joe Phelps, a story about you as a boy playing in the woods and finding the hidden metal box with the old love letters to Mr. Benson, your neighbor. Your realization that you now are the only one alive who carries the knowledge of the letters, his girl Ruth and their boat ride in Miami was so poignant, a perfect ending.
Thanks for all the years, stay cheerful,
Thank you. I woke up this morning knowing that I simply had to write a letter to a sister-in-law who’d written to me months ago so I got up and did it, email, and sent it off, and then wished I’d taken the time to get out paper and pen and done it the right way. It was a letter expressing admiration for her spirit and dedication and I just think it would mean more if it were in ink on paper. I resolve to do this more often in the future and hope I do, though with pen and paper you sometimes go off in a direction you wish you hadn’t and you miss the Delete key. GK
Reading about your confinement with COVID and your beloved away in Minneapolis, ordering chicken soup from your local deli, it occurred to me that you don’t often mention your culinary skills, if any!
When I retired from working as a bookshop owner at age 80 in early 2020, I decided that I needed to take on some of my wife’s housekeeping responsibilities, and although she’s an excellent cook she regards it as a chore. Conversely, although I’m a rank amateur I really enjoy cooking; it’s about the only creative skill that I possess, and so now I prepare all the family meals, much to my darling wife’s delight.
We’re really fortunate that in this age of technology anyone can become a gourmet chef, there are countless thousands of recipes on the www, often complete with video instructions that are so easy to follow.
I source most of my inspiration from a nice Sydney lady called Nagi who has compiled a blog that is regularly updated, I have added her website to the homepage on my smartphone so that I can have it lying on the kitchen bench as I refer to the recipe while I work on my latest creation.
It goes to show that there is no end of things you can turn the mind to when you reach the age of 80. If you’re interested, just check out the following recipe for Chinese Chicken and Cashews:
Will, you are leading me in a direction I’m not likely to go. My wife loves cooking and what’s more, we live in Manhattan where you can go online to Grubhub and order food delivered, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, cheeseburgers, and it comes in about 20 minutes. Ordering is simple and in the 20 minutes I sit and write and then the doorbell rings and someone hands me the sack, all warm and fragrant. I admire your generous enterprise. I’m loyal to Grubhub. GK
Will Muskens, thank you. I am going to make that cashew chicken.
hmmmmm. Imagine getting my address wrong.