Garrison Keillor Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Is the comparison of Garrison Keillor to Mark Twain warranted?

What structural differences exist between Lake Wobegon Days and Keillor’s later novels?

Keillor has published books of sketches and short stories, in addition to several novels. In which genre is he more effective?

Is Keillor’s satire Horatian (mild, gentle) or Juvenalian (harsh, biting)? Would some other term better describe it?

Keillor’s later works have many more sexual scenes and references than do his first books. Have these strengthened, weakened, or had little discernible effect upon the quality of his writing?

Keillor’s writing has become increasingly political. Has his partisanship had a positive, a negative, or a negligible effect upon the quality of his humor?

Some critics have characterized Keillor’s comedy as having “midwestern roots.” What, if anything, is uniquely midwestern about his humor?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Garrison Keillor began his literary career in 1960 as a radio comedian appearing on Minnesota Public Radio. From 1974 to 1987, he hosted a live weekly radio show based in St. Paul, Minnesota, entitled A Prairie Home Companion, a variety format that included original monologues that he called “News from Lake Wobegon.” Offered as a premium to Minnesota Public Radio contributors, Keillor’s The Selected Verse of Margaret Haskins Durber (1979) includes fourteen poems about Minnesota that he had read or sung on the air. The short fiction that he subsequently published is largely rooted in the twenty-minute monologues that he composed for his radio shows and that revolve around the places and characters of the mythical Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, in Mist (missed) County. Some of his monologues have also been released on audiocassette tapes, videocassettes, and compact-disc recordings. Beginning in 1989, Keillor hosted from New York City the weekly radio broadcast American Radio Company of the Air, a variety format, which likewise included original monologues, some of which have been anthologized in print or on tape. In 1999, Keillor published the novel Me: By Jimmy (Big Boy) Valente, Governor of Minnesota, as Told to Garrison Keillor.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Garrison Keillor, along with Spalding Gray and Eric Bogosian, achieved fame as one of the most accomplished monologuists in the last half of the twentieth century. His written production initially grew out of both his live and his recorded performances and succeeded largely because his reputation as a performer preceded the publications. He is a homespun humorist with a droll, low-key, tongue-in-cheek style. His rambling tales emanated from poking fun at the fictional characters of his mythical Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, “the little town that time forgot and that decades cannot improve.”

Besides having created and hosted nationally acclaimed radio shows and published best-selling books, Keillor has continued to be a regular contributor to The New Yorker. He received a Grammy Award for his recording of Lake Wobegon Days and two Awards for Cable Excellence for the Disney Channel productions of A Prairie Home Companion. He has also received a George Foster Peabody Broadcasting award and an Edward R. Murrow award. He has appeared with the Chicago, Minnesota, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and National symphony orchestras, and in a performance entitled “Lake Wobegon Tonight,” at the Apollo Theatre in London. He has received a Gold Medal Award for spoken English from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1990 and was inducted into the Museum of Broadcast Communications and the Radio Hall of Fame in 1994.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Garrison Keillor (KEE-lur) began publishing short stories in 1970, many of them in The New Yorker. Some of his short stories have been published with other short pieces (monologues, poems, and letters) in such collections as Happy to Be Here: Stories and Comic Pieces (1982), Lake Wobegon Days (1985), We Are Still Married: Stories and Letters (1989), and The Book of Guys (1993). Keillor is also renowned as the host of the weekly American Public Media radio program A Prairie Home Companion, which first aired in 1974. The program ran from 1974 to 1987 and then was on hiatus until 1993, when it began again. During the break from A Prairie Home Companion, Keillor worked on several other projects, including a program similar to the earlier show titled The American Radio Company of the Air. On each of his radio show’s episodes, Keillor presents a monologue; some of these have been collected in the volume Leaving Home: A Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories (1987), and others have been included in his short-story collections.

In addition to his novels and short fiction, Keillor has numerous forewords, prefaces, and introductions to other writers’ works to his credit. He has also edited two collections of poetry, Good Poems (2002) and Good Poems for Hard Times (2005). In Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America, published in the presidential election year of 2004, Keillor lays out his political philosophy.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Garrison Keillor is a popular humorist whose books and recordings often sell well. Leaving Home, a collection of Lake Wobegon monologues, remained on the best-seller lists for twenty-two weeks after it appeared. Lake Wobegon Days was on The New York Times best-seller list for forty-four weeks in hardcover and twenty-one weeks in paperback; within five years of its publication, nearly four million copies of the book were in print. Keillor’s long fiction has grown out of the characters created for his radio monologues and stories focusing on the people and values of the fictional midwestern town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Audiences appreciate Keillor’s comic stories of ordinary people spun out in a folksy style.

His distinctive speaking voice has garnered Keillor substantial voice-over work; for example, he can be heard in Ken Burns’s documentary series The Civil War, Baseball, and Empire of the Air. Keillor’s audio recordings, of both his own works and the works of others, have earned him several Grammy nominations. Keillor also wrote the screenplay for and performed in the 2006 motion picture A Prairie Home Companion, which was directed by Robert Altman. The film’s ensemble cast includes Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Lindsay Lohan, and Tommy Lee Jones, as well as Sue Scott, Tim Russell, and Tom Keith, regulars on the Prairie Home Companion radio show.

Keillor’s work has been recognized with a number of awards and other honors. He received an honorary degree from Gettysburg College in 1987, and in 1994 he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. In 2001, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2007, the Moth, a nonprofit storytelling organization, gave Keillor the Moth Award, “Honoring the Art of the Raconteur.”


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Fedo, Michael. The Man from Lake Wobegon. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. Fedo’s biography of Keillor, from early childhood until his departure from Minnesota, is an unauthorized biography. Keillor refused to be interviewed by Fedo and encouraged his staff and the performers on his show to do likewise. Still, Fedo reveals close particulars of Keillor’s personal life, his interests and influences, and the phenomenon of his popularity. Particularly useful is Fedo’s four-page bibliography, which includes published interviews and articles about Keillor.

Lee, Judith Yaross. Garrison Keillor: A Voice of America. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991. Analysis of Keillor’s stories in Lake Wobegone Days, Leaving Home, and other uncollected short fictions. Examines Keillor’s methods of composition and such literary ancestors of his creation of Lake Wobegone as William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha, James Joyce’s Dublin, and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg.

Narveson, Robert D. “Catholic-Lutheran Interaction in Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days and Hassler’s Grand Opening.” In Exploring the Midwestern Literary Imagination, edited by Marcia Noe. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1993. Compares descriptions of Catholic and Lutheran interaction in small towns in Keillor’s fiction with...

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