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Garrison Keillor

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Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor
Birth name Gary Edward Keillor
Born (1942-08-07) August 7, 1942
Anoka, Minnesota
Medium Radio, print
Years active 1969–present
Genres Observational comedy, Storytelling
Subject(s) American culture (esp. the Midwest); American politics
Spouse Mary Guntzel (1965–76)
Ulla Skaerved (1985–90)
Jenny Lind Nilsson (1995–present)
Notable works and roles Himself, Guy Noir, Lefty, Bob Burger, and Lake Wobegon narrator in A Prairie Home Companion

Gary Edward "Garrison" Keillor (born August 7, 1942) is an American author, storyteller, humorist, and radio personality. He is known as host of the Minnesota Public Radio show A Prairie Home Companion (also known as Garrison Keillor's Radio Show on United Kingdom's BBC Radio 4 Extra, as well as on RTÉ in Ireland, Australia's ABC, and Radio New Zealand National in New Zealand).

Personal life

Keillor in 2010, wearing his signature red shoes

Keillor was born in Anoka, Minnesota, the son of Grace Ruth (née Denham) and John Philip Keillor, who was a carpenter and postal worker.[1][2] His father had English ancestry, partly by way of Canada (Keillor's paternal grandfather was from Kingston, Ontario).[3][4] His maternal grandparents were Scottish immigrants, from Glasgow.[5][6] The family belonged to the Plymouth Brethren, a fundamentalist Christian denomination Keillor has since left. He is six feet, three inches (1.9 m) tall.[7] Keillor is a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.[8] In 2006 he told Christianity Today that he was attending the Episcopal church in Saint Paul, after previously attending a Lutheran church in New York.[9][10]

Keillor graduated from Anoka High School in 1960 and from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor's degree in English in 1966.[11] During college, he began his broadcasting career on the student-operated radio station known today as Radio K.

Keillor has been married three times:[12]

  • To Mary Guntzel, from 1965 to 1976. That union produced one son, Jason, born in 1969.
  • To Ulla Skaerved (a former exchange student from Denmark at Keillor's high school whom he famously re-encountered at a class reunion), from 1985 to 1990.
  • To violinist Jenny Lind Nilsson (b. 1957), who is from his hometown of Anoka, since 1995. They have one daughter, Maia Grace Keillor, born December 29, 1997.[13]

Between his first and second marriages, he was also romantically involved with Margaret Moos, who worked as a producer of A Prairie Home Companion.[14]

On September 7, 2009, Keillor was briefly hospitalized after suffering a minor stroke. He returned to work a few days later.[15]


Keillor in 2014

In his book Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America (2004), Keillor mentions some of his noteworthy ancestors, including Joseph Crandall,[16] who was an associate of Roger Williams (who founded the first American Baptist church as well as Rhode Island); and Prudence Crandall, who founded the first African-American women's school in America.[17]



Garrison Keillor started his professional radio career in November 1969 with Minnesota Educational Radio (MER), now Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and distributing programs under the American Public Media (APM) brand. He hosted The Morning Program in the weekday drive time slot of 6 to 9 a.m. on KSJR 90.1 FM at St. John's University in Collegeville, which the station called "A Prairie Home Entertainment." The show's eclectic music was a major divergence from the station's usual classical fare. During this time he also began submitting fiction to The New Yorker, where his first story, "Local Family Keeps Son Happy," appeared on September 19, 1970.[18]

Keillor resigned from The Morning Program in February 1971 to protest what he considered an attempt to interfere with his musical programming (as part of his protest, he played nothing but the Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda" during a show). The show became A Prairie Home Companion when he returned in October.[19]

Keillor has attributed the idea for the live Saturday night radio program to his 1973 assignment to write about the Grand Ole Opry for The New Yorker, but he had already begun showcasing local musicians on the morning show, despite limited studio space for them, and in August 1973 The Minneapolis Tribune reported MER's plans for a Saturday night version of A Prairie Home Companion with live musicians.[19][20]

A Prairie Home Companion debuted as an old-style variety show before a live audience on July 6, 1974, featuring guest musicians and a cadre cast doing musical numbers and comic skits replete with elaborate live sound effects. The show was punctuated by spoof commercial spots from fictitious sponsors such as Powdermilk Biscuits.[19] The show also contains parodic serial melodramas, such as The Adventures of Guy Noir, Private Eye and The Lives of the Cowboys. Keillor voices Noir and other recurring radio drama characters, and also provides lead or backup vocals for some of the show's musical numbers.

After the show's intermission, Keillor reads clever and often humorous greetings to friends and family at home submitted by members of the theater audience in exchange for an honorarium. Also in the second half of the show, the broadcasts showcase a weekly monologue by Keillor entitled The News from Lake Wobegon. The town is based in part on Keillor's own hometown of Anoka, Minnesota, and in part on Freeport and other towns in Stearns County, where he lived in the early 1970s.[21] Lake Wobegon is a quintessential but fictional Minnesotan small town "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

Keillor with Richard Dworsky on the 40th anniversary of A Prairie Home Companion

A Prairie Home Companion ran until 1987, when Keillor decided to end it to focus on other projects. In 1989, he launched another live radio program from New York City, "The American Radio Company of the Air" — which had almost the same format as A Prairie Home Companion's. In 1992, he moved ARC back to St. Paul, and a year later changed the name back to A Prairie Home Companion; it has remained a Saturday night fixture ever since.[22] On A Prairie Home Companion, Keillor receives no billing or credit (except "written by Sarah Bellum," a joking reference to his own brain); his name is not mentioned unless a guest addresses him by his first name or the initials "G. K.," though some sketches feature Keillor as his alter ego, Carson Wyler.

A Prairie Home Companion regularly goes on the road and is broadcast live from popular venues around the United States, often featuring local celebrities and skits incorporating local color. In April 2000, he took the program to Edinburgh, Scotland and gave two performances in the city's Queen's Hall. These were broadcast by BBC Radio on April 1 and 8. He also toured Scotland with the program to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

Keillor also sometimes gives broadcast performances of a similar nature that do not carry the "Prairie Home Companion" brand, as in his 2008 appearance at the Oregon Bach Festival.[23]

In a March 2011 interview with the AARP Bulletin, Keillor announced that he would be retiring from A Prairie Home Companion in 2013,[24] but in a December 2011 interview with the Sioux City Journal, Keillor told the interviewer "The show is going well. I love doing it. Why quit?"[25] His publicist later confirmed that "He doesn't have any specific plans to retire. He's still having a lot of fun doing the show."[26]

Keillor is also the host of The Writer's Almanac which, like A Prairie Home Companion, is produced and distributed by American Public Media. The Writer's Almanac is also available online[27] and via daily e-mail installments by subscription.[28]


Keillor has been called "[o]ne of the most perceptive and witty commentators about Midwestern life" by Randall Balmer in Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism.[29] He has written numerous magazine and newspaper articles and more than a dozen books for adults as well as children. In addition to writing for The New Yorker, he has written for The Atlantic Monthly and National Geographic.[30] He has also written for and authored an advice column at under the name "Mr. Blue." Following a heart operation, he resigned on September 4, 2001, his last column being titled "Every dog has his day":[31]

Illness offers the chance to think long thoughts about the future (praying that we yet have one, dear God), and so I have, and so this is the last column of Mr. Blue, under my authorship, for Salon. Over the years, Mr. Blue's strongest advice has come down on the side of freedom in our personal lives, freedom from crushing obligation and overwork and family expectations and the freedom to walk our own walk and be who we are. And some of the best letters have been addressed to younger readers trapped in jobs like steel suits, advising them to bust loose and go off and have an adventure. Some of the advisees have written back to inform Mr. Blue that the advice was taken and that the adventure changed their lives. This was gratifying. So now I am simply taking my own advice. Cut back on obligations: Promote a certain elegant looseness in life. Simple as that. Winter and spring, I almost capsized from work, and in the summer I had a week in St. Mary's Hospital to sit and think, and that's the result. Every dog has his day and I've had mine and given whatever advice was mine to give (and a little more). It was exhilarating to get the chance to be useful, which is always an issue for a writer (What good does fiction do?), and Mr. Blue was a way to be useful. Nothing human is beneath a writer's attention; the basic questions about how to attract a lover and what to do with one once you get one and how to deal with disappointment in marriage are the stuff that fiction is made from, so why not try to speak directly? And so I did. And now it's time to move on.

In 2004 Keillor published a collection of political essays, Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America, and in June 2005 he began a column called "The Old Scout",[32] which ran at and in syndicated newspapers. The column went on hiatus in April 2010 "so that he [could] finish a screenplay and start writing a novel".

Keillor wrote the screenplay for the 2006 movie A Prairie Home Companion, directed by Robert Altman. (Keillor also appears in the movie.)

"Common Good Books, G. Keillor, Prop." in St. Paul


On November 1, 2006, Keillor opened an independent bookstore, "Common Good Books, G. Keillor, Prop." in the Blair Arcade Building at the southwest corner of Selby and N. Western Avenues in the Cathedral Hill area in the Summit-University neighborhood of Saint Paul, Minnesota.[33] Upon opening the bookstore, Keillor wrote this sonnet:[34]

A bookstore is for people who love books and need
To touch them, open them, browse for a while,
And find some common good – that's why we read.
Readers and writers are two sides of the same gold coin.
You write and I read and in that moment I find
A union more perfect than any club I could join:
The simple intimacy of being one mind.
Here in a book-filled room on a busy street,
Strangers — living and dead — are hoping to meet.

In April 2012, the store moved to a new location across Snelling Ave from Macalester College in the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood.[35]

Voiceover work

Probably owing in part to his distinctive North Central accent, Keillor is often used as a voiceover actor. Some notable appearances include:

  • Voiceover artist for Honda UK's "the Power of Dreams" campaign. The campaign's most memorable advertisement is the 2003 Honda Accord commercial Cog, which features a Heath Robinson contraption (or Rube Goldberg Machine) made entirely of car parts. The commercial ends with Keillor asking, "Isn't it nice when things just work?"[36] Since then, Keillor has voiced the tagline for most if not all UK Honda advertisements, and even sang the voiceover in the 2004 Honda Diesel commercial "Grrr".[37] His most recent ad was a reworking of an existing commercial with digitally added England flags to tie in with the World Cup. Keillor's tagline was "Come on, England, keep the dream alive."
  • Voice of the Norse god Odin in an episode of the Disney animated series Hercules.
  • Voice of Walt Whitman and other historical figures in Ken Burns's documentary series The Civil War and Baseball.


In 2005, Keillor's attorneys sent a cease-and-desist letter to regarding their production of a T-shirt bearing the inscription "A Prairie Ho Companion."[38]

In 2006, after a visit to a United Methodist Church in Highland Park, Texas, Keillor created a local controversy with his remarks about the event,[39] including the rhetorical suggestion of a connection between event participants and supporters of torture and a statement creating an impression of political intimidation: "I walked in, was met by two burly security men ... and within 10 minutes was told by three people that this was the Bushes' church and that it would be better if I didn't talk about politics." The security detail is purportedly routine for the venue, and according to participants, Keillor did not interact with any audience members between his arrival and his lecture.[40] Supposedly, before Keillor's remarks, participants in the event had considered the visit to have been cordial and warm.[41]

In 2007, Keillor wrote a column that in part criticized "stereotypical" gay parents, who he said were "sardonic fellows with fussy hair who live in over-decorated apartments with a striped sofa and a small weird dog and who worship campy performers."[42] In response to the strong reactions of many readers, Keillor said

I live in a small world – the world of entertainment, musicians, writers – in which gayness is as common as having brown eyes.... And in that small world, we talk openly and we kid each other a lot. But in the larger world, gayness is controversial ... and so gay people feel besieged to some degree and rightly so.... My column spoke as we would speak in my small world, and it was read by people in the larger world and thus the misunderstanding. And for that, I am sorry. Gay people who set out to be parents can be just as good parents as anybody else, and they know that, and so do I.[43]

In 2008, Keillor created a controversy in St. Paul when he filed a lawsuit against his neighbors' plans to build an addition on their home, citing his need for "light and air" and a view of "open space and beyond". Keillor's home is significantly larger than others in his neighborhood and would still be significantly larger than his neighbors' with its planned addition.[44] Keillor came to an undisclosed settlement with his neighbors shortly after the story became public.[45]

In popular culture

  • Keillor's style, particularly his speaking voice, is often the subject of parody. The Simpsons parodied him in an episode in which the family is shown watching a Keillor-like monologist on television; they are perplexed at why the studio audience is laughing so much, prompting Homer to ask "What the hell's so funny?" and Bart to suggest "Maybe it's the TV." Homer then hits the set, exclaiming: "Stupid TV! Be more funny!"[46]
    • Harry Shearer, who portrayed the Keillor sound-alike, has also parodied Keillor on Shearer's own public radio series, Le Show.
  • One Boston radio critic likens Keillor and his "down-comforter voice" to "a hypnotist intoning, 'You are getting sleepy now'," while noting that Keillor does play to listeners' intelligence.[47]
  • In the bonus DVD material for the album Venue Songs by band They Might Be Giants, John Hodgman delivers a fictitious newscast in which he explains that "The Artist Formerly Known as Public Radio Host Garrison Keillor" and his "legacy of Midwestern pledge-drive funk" inspired the band's first "venue song."[48]
  • Pennsylvanian singer-songwriter Tom Flannery wrote a song in 2003 entitled "I Want a Job Like Garrison Keillor's."[49]
  • On the November 19, 2011, episode of Saturday Night Live, cast member Bill Hader impersonated Keillor in a sketch depicting celebrities auditioning to replace Regis Philbin as co-host of Live! with Kelly.
  • Keillor is referenced in Garry Trudeau's comic strip Doonesbury, when his radio show aggravates Governor Jesse Ventura to the point where Uncle Duke, working on Ventura's staff, takes one of Ventura's rants as an indirect order to assassinate Keillor.

Awards and other recognition


Keillor during a live broadcast in 2007 in Lanesboro, Minnesota

Keillor's work in print includes:

Lake Wobegon

Other fiction


  • 77 Love Sonnets (2009), ISBN 0-14-311527-8
  • O, What a Luxury (2013)

Poetry anthologies

  • Good Poems (2002), ISBN 0-670-03126-7
  • Good Poems for Hard Times (2005), ISBN 0-670-03436-3
  • Good Poems, American Places (2011), ISBN 0-670-02254-3

Contributions to The New Yorker

Title Department Volume/Part Date Page(s) Subject(s)
Notes and Comment The Talk of the Town 60/47 January 7, 1985 17–18 A friend's visit to San Francisco and Stinson Beach, California.


  1. ^ Wadler, Joyce (June 7, 2006). "Where all the rooms are above average / Garrison Keillor's home not a little house on the prairie". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  2. ^ Lands' End
  3. ^ , February 26, 1996.Toronto StarPeter Goddard, "Garrison Keillor sounds at home on CBC Radio",
  4. ^ "Ancestry of Garrison Keillor", compiled by William Addams Reitwiesner.
  5. ^
  6. ^ , July 27, 2012.MPR NewsEuan Kerr, "Grace Keillor, mother of Garrison, passes away at age 97",
  7. ^ Salon Books | Hot sex with the ex
  8. ^ Powers, John (August 10, 2008). "Plenty of niceness, and no ice, for a Grand Old Party". The Boston Globe. 
  9. ^ Carolyn Arends, "From the Radio to the Big Screen", Christianity Today, June 5, 2006.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Keillor, Garrison (April 15, 2010). "Post to the Host: 7th Grade Report". A Prairie Home Companion. Archived from the original on 21 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-05. 
  12. ^ Sheri & Bob Stritof, "Garrison Keillor and Jenny Lind Nilsson Marriage Profile", Guides
  13. ^ "A Prairie Home Companion from American Public Media". American Public Media. January 2, 1998. Retrieved December 24, 2010. 
  14. ^ John Rosengren, "Garrison Keillor: America’s Storyteller Finds His Muse".
  15. ^ Walsh, Paul (September 9, 2009). "Minor stroke puts Keillor in hospital".  
  16. ^ Keillor, Garrison (2004). Homegrown Democrat. New York: Penguin Books. pp. 39–40, 84.  
  17. ^ Keillor, Garrison (2004). Homegrown Democrat. New York: Penguin Books. p. 84.  
  18. ^ Lee, J. Y. Garrison Keillor: A Voice of America, pp. 29–30. University Press of Mississippi, 1991.
  19. ^ a b c Garrison Keillor, page 30. University Press of Mississippi, 1991.
  20. ^ "Keillor to Quit Daily Show, Others Leave KSJN, Minneapolis Tribune, 1973-08-24, 14B.
  21. ^ Keillor, Garrison; Richard Olsenius (photographs) (2001). In Search of Lake Wobegon. New York: Viking Studio. pp. 12–13.  
  22. ^
  23. ^ "Oregon Bach Festival pressroom". Retrieved August 17, 2009. 
  24. ^ "Garrison Keillor, 'Prairie Home Companion' Host, to Retire From Radio". The Hollywood Reporter. March 17, 2011. Retrieved March 30, 2011. 
  25. ^ Miller, Bruce (December 1, 2011). "Garrison Keillor keeps the home fires burning". Sioux City Journal. Retrieved January 22, 2012. 
  26. ^ Smith, Kelly (December 3, 2011). "Keillor says he's rethinking retirement". Minnesota Star Tribune. Retrieved January 22, 2012. 
  27. ^ The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor | Analysis of Baseball by May Swenson
  28. ^
  29. ^ Randall Balmer: Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism. Revised and expanded edition 2004, Baylor University Press.
  30. ^ He has written at least three articles for NG over the years including "In search of Lake Wobegon" (December 2000) and "There's No Place Like Home: A Personal Geography" February 2014
  31. ^
  32. ^ "The Old Scout" at Tribune Media Services
  33. ^ Webb, Tom (December 2, 2011). "Keillor's bookstore outgrows St. Paul space and will move to Macalester College campus".  
  34. ^ Laskin, Barbara K. "Common Good Books Opens at Macalester".  
  35. ^ Craine, Tatiana (May 7, 2012). "Garrison Keillor's Common Good Books re-opens in new location". Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  36. ^
  37. ^ Grr Commercial on YouTube
  38. ^ [1]
  39. ^ The United Methodist Portal
  40. ^ Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Columnist Jacquielynn Floyd | Dallas-Fort Worth News
  41. ^ | Arts/Entertainment News and Events | Dallas-Fort Worth | The Dallas Morning News | Books
  42. ^ Chicago Tribune"Family? Gender? Cowboys? I’ll tell you all about it", by Garrison Keillor –
  43. ^
  44. ^ Katherine Kersten » Blog Archive » Mr. Keillor’s Unneighborly Ways
  45. ^ Mediation ends Keillor's feud with neighbor
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^ Video on YouTube
  49. ^ "I Want a Job Like Garrison Keillor" at
  50. ^ a b c d "Something for Everyone". School of the Arts: University of North Carolina. Retrieved April 26, 2011. 
  51. ^
  52. ^ Welcome to Minnesota – Minnesota Historical Markers on
  53. ^ The Moth – Annual Moth Ball
  54. ^ San Jose State University, Press Release, "Garrison Keillor to Receive 2007 John Steinbeck Award," 2007 Sep 10,
  • Lee, Judith Yaross. Garrison Keillor: A Voice of America. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991. ISBN 978-0-87805-457-2.
  • "Lights! Camera! Retake!". Telegraph (2003). Retrieved 2005-06-07.

External links

  • Garrison Keillor at the Internet Movie Database
  • A Prairie Home Companion radio website Garrison Keillor's public radio show
  • Official website
  • A Prairie Home Companion movie website The movie written by Garrison Keillor and directed by Robert Altman
  • Minnesota Zen Master – a detailed profile of Garrison Keillor, published in The Guardian, March 6, 2004.
  • Kingdom of the Frown at the Wayback Machine (archived December 10, 2010) – A feature article from The Reykjavík Grapevine on Garrison Keillor
  • At Home With Garrison Keillor: Where All the Rooms Are Above Average New York Times June 1, 2006
  • A Prairie Home Conundrum Slate June 16, 2006
  • Garrison Keillor Charlie Rose interviews
  • An interview with Garrison Keillor (
  • Garrison Keillor – The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes PBS American Masters
  • Speech by Keillor at Concordia University February 15, 2011
  • Bill Hader mimics Garrison Keillor on SNL
  • Works by or about Garrison Keillor in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Paris Review 1995 interview
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