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Garrison Keiller 

by Kris Dinnison

Get Lit! will provide Spokane with a host of opportunities to hobnob with literary giants. But few of those figures will be as familiar in aspect and voice as Garrison Keillor. With his fuzzy caterpillar eyebrows, ironic smile, and trademark red socks, Keillor is a cultural icon. His resonant voice coming over the airwaves on public radio, and his tales from Minnesota's archetypical small town of Lake Wobegon, are a familiar part of America's cultural consciousness.

Keillor had dabbled in both writing and radio growing up; a conservative upbringing precluded most other media. In 1969 he began writing for The New Yorker. An article he did there inspired him to create a live radio show based on some of the shows he grew up with. By 1974, A Prairie Home Companion was on the air and Keillor's long relationship with public radio was underway. Verne Windham, a local musician and KPBX employee, says that Keillor's lasting appeal stems from a variety of sources. "One is that he has really evoked the best of radio drama," Windham explains. "There's the nostalgia aspect, but he also understands the appeal of how radio worked between the 1930s and the 1950s."

Keillor's mix of musical acts, fabricated commercials, radio drama, and storytelling attracts people who grew up with radio shows, drawing in generations that missed out on the pleasures of radio listening. Windham, who has appeared on PHC with the Spokane Falls Brass Band and therefore admits to some bias, believes Keillor offers something for all audiences.

"I think that anyone who takes the time to listen to his stories will find something there," says Windham. "He is looking for the sweet and subtle and common things that we share among us."

But Keillor's prose - and his show -- are more than just a charming walk down memory lane. "His 'voice' is not just his way of speaking," Windham says. "It's the integration of his writing and his delivery."

Keillor has published stories, poetry, autobiography, and even a joke book. His two most recent publications include a satirical novel called Love Me, which traces an obscure writer's meteoric rise to fame, and Garrison Keillor: A Life In Comedy, which is a series of autobiographical monologues originally delivered at Yale Repertory Theater. What he shares in these volumes, and on the radio, are insights into the human condition. "He's caught the eternal of the human condition through changing societies and cultures," Windham muses. "He makes us see how Lake Wobegon's way of life is like everybody's way of life."

Publication date: 04/08/04

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