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garrison keillor
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Happy Birthday, Garrison Keillor, Radio Host and Author

August 07, 2010
by Shannon Firth
Garrison Keillor is a radio host, author, advice columnist, three-time husband and father. Biographers speak of his wry humor, his stage presence, and his inability to be complimented. Born a Minnesot’n, his love for everything rural and quaint and his nostalgia for childhood resonate in his work. Some say his style is an acquired taste, but others will wait through any number of Keillor’s notoriously long radio silences to hear him close a good story.

Garrison Keillor’s Early Days

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Gary Edward Keillor was born on August 7, 1942, in Anoka, Minnesota, the third child of six. Since his parents belonged to the Plymouth Brethren, a fundamentalist Christian sect, Keillor and his siblings didn’t listen to music, see movies or go to dances.

As a teenager, he was very shy but enjoyed writing. He changed his name to Garrison, thinking it would sound more literary to the magazines where he sent his poems. As a student at the University of Minnesota he edited a literary magazine and worked as a radio announcer. In his late 20s, Keillor would wander secluded Minnesota towns to hear conversations in local coffee shops, from which he could glean story material.

Keillor’s Notable Accomplishments

Keillor began hosting “A Prairie Home Companion,” for Minnesota Public Radio in 1969. The program is currently live 35 weeks a year, broadcast Saturday evenings by nearly 580 public radio stations.

Originally a classical music show, today it features music, comedy sketches and Keillor’s news updates from the imaginary town of Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.” Writing for Time magazine, John Skow calls Keillor’s stories a “marvelous kind of time machine ... [where] listeners really can learn how those folks talked who are vanished now.”

Keillor had his first story published in The New Yorker in 1970; it was about a 16-year-old boy whose parents, wanting to provide their son with a social life but also shelter him from the outside world, bring a prostitute to live in their home. New Yorker fiction editor Roger Angell remembered that Keillor’s story “just came in over the counter and it was terrific.” He added, “We got in touch with him straight away and he began to send us some great stuff.”

Keillor has authored more than a dozen books; his most recent is 2007’s “Pontoon,” a book that continues the Lake Wobegon series and begins, “Evelyn was an insomniac, so when they say she died in her sleep, you have to question that.”

Keillor received a Grammy for his recording of “Lake Wobegon Days” and in 1994, he was inducted to the Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago. In addition to one-man shows, he has performed with countless orchestras and has appeared at Carnegie Hall and Wolf Trap as part of The Hopeful Gospel Quartet.

The Rest of the Story

Keillor calls himself a conservative Democrat. In 2008, he endorsed Barack Obama for president. In the 1990s, he wrote an advice column for Salon, called Mr. Blue. He now writes a more general column for Salon, which has touched on everything from McCain’s grandmother to his daughter’s swimming and his nostalgia for motor homes.

Though notoriously shy, Keillor considers himself “brave at romance. Brave or irresponsible.” He has been married three times. He and his first wife Mary Guntzel, had one son, Jason. He dedicated his book “Love Me” to her memory. He had an affair with his producer, Margaret Moos, and then briefly married Ulla Skaerved, an exchange student from his high school. They divorced a few years later.

He now lives with his third wife, Jenny Lind Nilsson, a well-respected violinist who was also born in Anoka, and their daughter, Maia, in St. Paul, Minnesota.
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