Garrison Keillor

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Garrison Keillor
Birth name Gary Edward Keillor
Born (1942-08-07) August 7, 1942 (age 73)
Anoka, Minnesota
Medium Radio, print
Alma mater University of Minnesota
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 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 (called Garrison Keillor's Radio Show in some international syndication). Keillor created the fictional Minnesota town Lake Wobegon, the setting of many of his books, including Lake Wobegon Days and Leaving Home: A Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories. Other creations include Guy Noir, whom Keillor also voices, a detective who appears in A Prairie Home Companion.

Personal life[edit]

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, an Evangelical Christian movement 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 St. John the Evangelist 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. They had 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 also from 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 2004 book Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America, Keillor mentions some of his noteworthy ancestors, including Joseph Crandall,[16] who was an associate of Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island and the first American Baptist church, 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] The program is 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.

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, 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 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, Keillor gives a monologue called 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]

During an interview on July 20, 2015, Keillor announced he intends to retire from the show after the 2015-2016 season, saying, "I have a lot of other things that I want to do. I mean, nobody retires anymore. Writers never retire. But this is my last season. This tour this summer is the farewell tour." Hosting duties for the show are to be transferred to Chris Thile.[27]

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 on the Web[28] and by email subscription.[29]


Keillor has been called "[o]ne of the most perceptive and witty commentators about Midwestern life" by Randall Balmer in Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism.[30] 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.[31] He has also written for and authored an advice column there 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":[32]

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",[33] 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. He 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.[34] Upon opening the bookstore, Keillor wrote this poem:[35]

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 Avenue from Macalester College in the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood.[36]

Voiceover work[edit]

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?"[37] 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".[38] 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"
  • Narrator of River Boat Documentary at The Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque Iowa


In 1991, Keillor released Songs of the Cat, an album of original and parody songs about cats.


In 2005, Keillor's attorneys sent a cease-and-desist letter to regarding their production of a T-shirt bearing the phrase "A Prairie Ho Companion."[39]

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,[40] 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." In response, the lecture series coordinator said the two “burly security men” were a local policeman and the church’s own security supervisor, both present because the agreement with Keillor‘s publisher specified that the venue provide security. In addition the coordinator said Mr. Keillor arrived at the church, declined an introduction and took the stage without an opportunity to mingle with the audience, and so didn’t know when these warnings might have been dispensed. The publicist concurred, saying that Keillor did not have contact with any church members or people in the audience before he spoke.[41] Supposedly, before Keillor's remarks, participants in the event had considered the visit to have been cordial and warm. Asked to respond, Keillor stuck to his story, describing the people who advised him not to discuss politics and saying that he did not have security guards at other stops on the tour.[42]

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."[43] 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.[44]

In 2008, Keillor created a controversy in St. Paul when he filed a lawsuit against his neighbor's plan 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 neighbor's with its planned addition.[45] Keillor came to an undisclosed settlement with his neighbor shortly after the story became public.[46]

In 2009, one of Keillor's "Old Scout" columns contained a reference to "lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys" and a complaint about "Silent Night" as rewritten by Unitarians, upsetting some readers.[47] A Unitarian minister named Cynthia Landrum responded, "Listening to him talk about us over the years, it's becoming more and more evident that he isn't laughing with us — he's laughing at us",[48] while Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe called Keillor "cranky and intolerant".[49]


In Slate, Sam Anderson called Keillor "very clearly a genius. His range and stamina alone are incredible—after 30 years, he rarely repeats himself—and he has the genuine wisdom of a Cosby or Mark Twain." But Keillor’s “willful simplicity,” Anderson wrote, “is annoying because, after a while, it starts to feel prescriptive. Being a responsible adult doesn’t necessarily mean speaking slowly about tomatoes.” Anderson also noted that in 1985, when Time Magazine called Keillor the funniest man in America, Bill Cosby said, “That’s true if you’re a pilgrim.”[50]

In popular culture[edit]

Keillor's style, particularly his speaking voice, has often been parodied.

  • 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!"[51] Harry Shearer, who portrayed the Keillor sound-alike, has also parodied Keillor on Shearer's own public radio series, Le Show.
  • 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.[52]
  • 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.[53]
  • 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."[54]
  • On the 2005 Family Guy episode "Don't Make Me Over", Peter's band Fat, Horny, Bald, and Joe accidentally starts a prison riot. In an attempt to quell it, he shouts over the hullabaloo, "Hey, how about a clever anecdote from Lake Wobegon, my home town? It was the day of the Great Beerier Reef fishing contest..." and is cut off when a chair hits him.
  • Pennsylvanian singer-songwriter Tom Flannery wrote a song in 2003 titled "I Want a Job Like Garrison Keillor's."[55]
  • 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.
  • In Bret Easton Ellis's novel American Psycho, the main character, Patrick Bateman, flips through a book by Keillor while waiting for a date to arrive.

Awards and other recognition[edit]


Keillor during a live broadcast in 2007 in Lanesboro, Minnesota

Keillor's work in print includes:

Lake Wobegon[edit]

Other fiction[edit]

G. K. The D. J.


  • The Selected Verse of Margaret Haskins Durber (1979)
  • 77 Love Sonnets (2009), ISBN 0-14-311527-8
  • O, What a Luxury (2013)

Poetry anthologies[edit]

Contributions to The New Yorker[edit]

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. ^ [1] Archived April 3, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Garrison Keillor sounds at home on CBC Radio". 1996-02-26. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  4. ^ "Ancestry of Garrison Keillor". Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  5. ^ [2] Archived November 9, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
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  7. ^ [3] Archived October 21, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Powers, John (August 10, 2008). "Plenty of niceness, and no ice, for a Grand Old Party". The Boston Globe. 
  9. ^ "From the Radio to the Big Screen". Christianity Today. 2006-06-05. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  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. ^ "Garrison Keillor and Jenny Lind Nilsson - Marriage Profile". Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  13. ^ "A Prairie Home Companion from American Public Media". American Public Media. January 2, 1998. Retrieved December 24, 2010. 
  14. ^ "Garrison Keillor". John Rosengren. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  15. ^ Walsh, Paul (September 9, 2009). "Minor stroke puts Keillor in hospital". Star Tribune. Retrieved September 9, 2009. 
  16. ^ Keillor, Garrison (2004). Homegrown Democrat. New York: Penguin Books. pp. 39–40, 84. ISBN 0-14-303768-4. 
  17. ^ Keillor, Garrison (2004). Homegrown Democrat. New York: Penguin Books. p. 84. ISBN 0-14-303768-4. 
  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. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Lee" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Lee" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  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. ISBN 978-0-670-03037-8. 
  22. ^ "About A Prairie Home Companion". Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  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. ^ Garrison Keillor, of Lake Wobegon fame, will retire from 'Prairie Home Companion' in 2016
  28. ^ Harrison, Jeffrey (2015-02-27). "The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor A poem each day, plus literary and historical notes from this day in history". Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  29. ^ "American Public Media: E-mail Newsletters". Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  30. ^ Randall Balmer: Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism. Revised and expanded edition 2004, Baylor University Press.
  31. ^ "In Search of Lake Wobegon @". Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  32. ^ Miller, Laura (2001-09-04). "Every dog has his day". Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  33. ^ "Liberal - Political". Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  34. ^ Webb, Tom (December 2, 2011). "Keillor's bookstore outgrows St. Paul space and will move to Macalester College campus". St. Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  35. ^ "Common Good Books Opens at Macalester". Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  36. ^ Craine, Tatiana (May 7, 2012). "Garrison Keillor's Common Good Books re-opens in new location". Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  37. ^ [4] Archived June 3, 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  38. ^ Grr Commercial on YouTube
  39. ^ [5][dead link]
  40. ^ [6] Archived February 29, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  41. ^ Floyd, Jacquielynn (October 4, 2006). "Keillor's Dallas jabs read like fictional tale". Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on October 10, 2006. 
  42. ^ [7] Archived April 2, 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  43. ^ [8] Archived November 9, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  44. ^ "To the worker ants of science". 2007-03-21. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  45. ^ " News, weather, sports from Minneapolis, St. Paul and Minnesota". 2015-02-26. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  46. ^ "Mediation ends Keillor's feud with neighbor". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  47. ^ "Garrison Keillor Christmas | Nonbelievers, please leave Christmas alone - Baltimore Sun". 2009-12-16. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  48. ^ Cynthia Landrum (2009-12-17). "Rev. Cyn: Garrison Keillor Is no "Companion" for Unitarian Universalists". Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  49. ^ "Musings, random and otherwise - The Boston Globe". Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  50. ^
  51. ^ [9] Archived December 4, 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  52. ^ "‘SNL’ Spoofs Garrison Keillor". WCCO-TV. November 20, 2011. Retrieved March 27, 2015. 
  53. ^ [10] Archived June 30, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  54. ^ Video on YouTube
  55. ^ "I Want a Job Like Garrison Keillor's". 2003-11-13. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  56. ^ a b c d "Something for Everyone". School of the Arts: University of North Carolina. Retrieved April 26, 2011. 
  57. ^ "Index". 2014-11-09. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  58. ^ "Welcome to Minnesota - Minnesota Historical Markers on". Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
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  60. ^ [12][dead link]

External links[edit]