Garrison Keillor’s new life in New York is sometimes interrupted by his old life in Minnesota.
In a guest essay in the August issue of Harper’s Magazine, Keillor writes about one such interruption:
“I once got on the downtown 1 train at 96th and Broadway and sat across from a black woman in a gray wool suit reading a book of mine about a small town in Minnesota where the women are strong, the men good-looking, and all the children above average,” Keillor wrote. “I watched, trying to be unobtrusive. Young black professional women are not considered to be my primary readership.”
The writer ended up interrupting the reader:
“I got up to get off and then could not resist saying hello, I’m from Minnesota,” Keillor wrote. “I stuck out my hand and said, ‘That’s my book. I mean, I wrote it.'”
Turns out, she was a fan.
“She was from Ethiopia,” he writes, “going to grad school in New York. She liked my show because I spoke slowly and clearly in whole sentences, and have good diction, which is all on account of my aunts, who complimented me when I recited my Bible verses in Sunday school.”
While the essay is officially a rumination on the proliferation of public plazas in recent years — it is called “Hurrah for the Plaza, an appreciation for the diversity of life” — Keillor also explores his Minnesota roots as he sits in the plazas of New York: The Midwestern culture, he writes, is one where you learn to “Make Yourself Useful, Do Your Part, Look Out for Others, and Cheer Up, It Could Be Worse. We are not complainers.”
In life, versus the page, Keillor has been letting go of St. Paul as his headquarters: In 2018, Keillor put his home on Summit Avenue up for sale. In 2019, he sold his St. Paul bookstore. The distancing happened after Keillor was accused of inappropriate behavior with several women, and Minnesota Public Radio and its parent organization, American Public Radio, severed its connection with “A Prairie Home Companion,” which Keillor hosted.
Since then, an agreement was reached and MPR restored access to the archives of “A Prairie Home Companion” and “The Writer’s Almanac.” Through Keillor’s website, “The Writer’s Almanac” is now also available as an email newsletter, and fans can also listen to it as a podcast. More recently, a brand-new set of monologues about Lake Wobegon — culled from the final two years of Keillor’s time hosting the show — was just released through his website.
On Tuesday, Keillor also announced that he will play a string of intimate shows in Minnesota and Wisconsin in August and mid-October. “An Evening with Garrison Keillor” will feature Keillor at the microphone, singing and telling his signature style of humorous and labyrinthine stories, accompanied by former “Prairie Home Companion” music director Richard Dworsky at the piano — similar to a set of shows the duo performed last February, all across Minnesota in the middle of a weeklong blizzard. The dates do not include any appearances in St. Paul.
Although Keillor is considered officially “retired,” the tagline in the Harper’s essay states that Keillor is also “at work on a musical, Dusty and Lefty, and a screenplay, Flag Day, as well as a collection of limericks.” He is also working on a memoir and will set sail on the sold-out “A Prairie Home Companion” cruise to the Caribbean in March.
The August issue of Harper’s is currently on newsstands, and Keillor’s essay is available online at Harpers.org. For info on his Minnesota shows this fall, visit Garrisonkeillor.com.