Study Guide

Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111226253-Keillor.jpgGarrison Keillor Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Gary Edward Keillor was born August 7, 1942, in Anoka, Minnesota, the son of John Philip and Grace Ruth Denham Keillor. His father was a railway mail clerk and carpenter. Keillor attended the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, where he worked as a staff announcer for the campus station, KUOM radio, from 1963 to 1968. This job began a long career in radio, during which he took the more formal Garrison Keillor as his professional name. He married Mary C. Guntzel on September 11, 1965, and they had a son, Jason.

Keillor received a B.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1966 and briefly sought a writing job in New York. He had hoped to join the staff of The New Yorker, a magazine he had admired since boyhood. He was not at that time successful, so he continued in broadcasting. In 1971, he began working as an announcer and producer with Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul. In 1974, he launched the highly successful weekly program A Prairie Home Companion, for which he served as host and principal writer. He was divorced in May, 1976.

A Prairie Home Companion, inspired by the Grand Ole Opry radio program, was broadcast live before a theater audience on Saturday nights. The program initially ran for more than a decade. It was carried by more than two hundred public radio stations and was televised during the 1987 season. It was a variety show made up of an eclectic musical component, comic sketches (written or cowritten by Keillor), and the host’s weekly monologue about the goings-on in his fictional hometown of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Keillor’s leisurely monologues drew heavily upon his small-town upbringing, although he has always insisted that Lake Wobegon is a romantic creation, not a caricature of his actual hometown.

Keillor grew up in a Fundamentalist sect called the Plymouth Brethren, whose strictures made other Fundamentalist denominations appear rather “loose.” The monologues often treated the American practice of Christianity humorously but also gently and affectionately. A Prairie Home Companion was interspersed with commercials for fictitious businesses and products: Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery, Bertha’s Kitty Boutique, the Chatterbox Cafe, Bob’s Bank, the Sidetrack Tap, Scottie’s Cough Syrup for Dogs, and—most popular of all—Powdermilk Biscuits.

Although never perhaps reaching the mass audience available to commercial radio, the show was a phenomenal popular success for public broadcasting. It was a critical success, receiving the George Foster Peabody Broadcasting...

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Garrison Keillor Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

The titles of four of Keillor’s first books and the order of their publication serve as a summary statement of the first part of his career. In Happy to Be Here, a major comedic talent appears on the literary scene. Lake Wobegon Days showcases his powers of invention and his impressive prose style in a sustained narrative. Leaving Home announces that the author’s Lake Wobegon period is coming an end. In We Are Still Married, Keillor’s center of consciousness is no longer located in the Midwest. It can now be found in New York City. Perhaps the title is both a plea and a pledge to the readers who loved Lake Wobegon so much. Indeed, they loved it so much that, in time, the author returned to Minnesota and brought, as Wobegon Boy and Lake Wobegon Summer 1956 reveal, his old subject matter with him.

Garrison Keillor Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Garrison Keillor’s roots in small-town Minnesota provided him with the particular brand of midwestern humor that brought him fame and on which he continued to capitalize even after relocating to New York City. Born Gary Edward Keillor, he was the third of six children in the family of John P. Keillor, a railway mail clerk and carpenter, and Grace Denham Keillor. When he was in the eighth grade, he adopted the pen name “Garrison” in place of his given names because, he said, he believed that it sounded “more formidable.” He grew up just north of Minneapolis, Minnesota, south of the small town of Anoka in what has since become Brooklyn Park. After his 1960 graduation from Anoka High School, he enrolled in the University of Minnesota, authored a regular column, published stories in the student magazine The Ivory Tower, which he later edited, and was student announcer for KUOM, the university radio station. He received a B.A. in English and journalism in 1966, went to New York in an unsuccessful attempt to land a job as a writer, returned to work on a master’s degree in English, and then took a job with KSJR-FM in Collegeville, the first station in the Minnesota Public Radio network.

Keillor spent fourteen years on and off, from 1968 to 1982, as a disc jockey in St. Paul, Minnesota. His earliest program, The Prairie Home Morning Show, eventually included anecdotes about a mythical Midwestern place that he called Lake Wobegon, situated in the similarly mythical Mist County. One of the hallmarks of the program was inclusion of advertisements from bogus sponsors:...

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Garrison Keillor Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Garrison Keillor was born Gary Edward Keillor on August 7, 1942, to Grace Denham Keillor and John Keillor of Anoka, Minnesota. He was the third of six children. He graduated from Anoka High School in 1960 and completed a bachelor’s degree with a major in English from the University of Minnesota in 1966. He was raised in the Sanctified Brethren Christian denomination, but he later became an Episcopalian. He has been married three times: to Mary Guntzel (1965-1976), Ulla Skaerved (1985-1990), and Jenny Lind Nilsson (1995-present). He is the father of a son, Jason, with Guntzel and a daughter, Maia, with Nilsson. He has lived in New York, Denmark, and Wisconsin, and now resides in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Keillor, who was already hosting a morning radio program in Minneapolis, was inspired to begin his radio variety program after writing a piece on the Grand Ole Opry for The New Yorker in 1974. He has hosted a weekly radio variety show for more than thirty years, in addition to touring with various musical groups during his show’s summer breaks. A Prairie Home Companion has become a Saturday-night institution for many public radio listeners. It consists of two hours of comedy skits, which Keillor writes himself, fake commercials for such products as Powdermilk Biscuits and Bertha’s Kitty Boutique, and live music from a variety of guests. A regular ensemble of actors performs skits that are presented as episodes of recurring “shows” such as Guy Noir: Private Eye and The Lives of the Cowboys.

Garrison Keillor Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Garrison Keillor (KEE-lur) became widely known for his popular public radio program A Prairie Home Companion, a show featuring a mixture of midwestern folk humor and a variety of musical offerings. Keillor’s stories about his fictional town of Lake Wobegon established him as a major figure in the tradition of American humor. Born Gary Edward Keillor in Anoka, a small town near the Minnesota’s twin cities, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Keillor adopted the pen name of Garrison Keillor at the age of thirteen, by which time he had already become interested in writing. During his high school years, he wrote for the school newspaper until his graduation in 1960, when he enrolled at the University of Minnesota.

At the university, Keillor obtained his first radio experience by working at the campus radio station. He also wrote poetry and eventually became editor of the student literary magazine the Ivory Tower, in which he published poems, prose essays and satires, and some fiction. During a break in his academic career, he worked for several months for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Keillor’s early influences included several regular contributors to The New Yorker, notably E. B. White, S. J. Perelman, and A. J. Liebling, but the work published in the Ivory Tower shows that he was already developing an independent voice as a midwesterner drawing upon his cultural environment for the raw materials of his art.

In 1966, Keillor graduated from the University of Minnesota. While seeking to establish himself as a writer, he continued to work at intervals as a radio announcer, and by 1969 he had begun to develop the style that was to become his trademark on the air. Broadcasting from a succession of public radio stations, Keillor presented unusual selections of folk music, which he combined with humorous narrations. He had a poem accepted for publication in The Atlantic Monthly in 1968, and by 1970 The New Yorker had begun to publish some of his short prose works. It was, however, Keillor’s radio broadcasting that both shaped and reflected the...

(The entire section is 865 words.)