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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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’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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