Last September, two weeks before he was to have opened Sangamon Auditorium’s 2009-10 season, radio host and writer Garrison Keillor was admitted to the Mayo Clinic with what a hospital spokesman called a “mini stroke.” He was released from the hospital later that week, but doctors’ orders kept him from flying to his show here. So it was postponed until Monday, when Keillor is to perform solo at Sangamon Auditorium in Springfield.
Last September, two weeks before he was to have opened Sangamon Auditorium’s 2009-10 season, radio host and writer Garrison Keillor was admitted to the Mayo Clinic with what a hospital spokesman called a “mini stroke.”
He was released from the hospital later that week, but doctors’ orders kept him from flying to his show here. So it was postponed until Monday, when Keillor is to perform solo at Sangamon Auditorium in Springfield.
Nevertheless, Keillor was back on his feet later that month for the season premiere of “A Prairie Home Companion,” his long-running public radio variety show.
That’s probably no surprise to his fans, who know him as a prolific entertainer — host of two radio programs, writer of books and a syndicated newspaper column and a performer of solo shows around the country.
“I’m at that point in a person’s career where, if you’re lucky, you are extremely busy, and you enter into this lovely, hyper-productive time, and you’re working faster than you ever could have imagined working before,” Keillor said in the 2008 documentary “Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes.”
He is probably best known as the host of “A Prairie Home Companion.” Broadcasting live from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minn., the show combines music, comedy skits, a sound-effects man and Keillor’s signature monologue, “The news from Lake Wobegon,” about his fictitious hometown. (It’s broadcast locally at 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon Sundays on WUIS-FM 91.9.)
He can also be heard on five short “The Writer’s Almanac” programs every week, with trivia about authors and a daily poem (broadcast at 9 a.m. weekdays on WUIS).
Besides that, Keillor has written memoirs and novels and edited poetry anthologies and joke books. And he writes a syndicated newspaper column, which appears Sundays in The State Journal-Register.
“To be able to do this, and to have the prospect of doing it for pay — this is a fortunate life,” Keillor said in the documentary.
Despite seeming to share so much in his Lake Wobegon monologues, Keillor, 67, also gives the impression of someone who guards his privacy.
“It’s not a great festive moment when you turn 65. Let me tell you, it’s like walking into a brick wall,” Keillor said in the documentary. “Thinking back on your long, messy life and all the parts of it that you wish you could rewrite.
“And then you look down at your little child, and you realize that you cannot possibly regret anything in the whole complicated chain of events that led to the existence of this child. And so you turn to the future, which is where you should be looking anyway.”
As a writer, Keillor seems to have spent time not just practicing his craft but thinking about the act of writing itself.
“You start with what you know, but writing is a process of discovery. It’s not as if we’re simply taking a plate out of our heads and laying it down on paper and printing from it — we’re not,” he tells a group of students in “The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes.”
“Writing is an act of discovery. And the moment you start with a character — maybe yourself, maybe someone else — but you start with a character, and you learn about that character by writing. ... You wind up in places you never thought you were going to go when you started out.
“That’s the whole reason for writing, is for discovery. You do not know what you yourself think until you put it into words,” Keillor said.
He speaks of his early affinity for Southern writers such as Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and William Faulkner. Faulkner invented a setting for much of his work, Yoknapatawpha County; it stands to reason this may have influenced Keillor’s decision to set many of his own stories in the fictional Lake Wobegon.
As Faulkner defined the South for generations of readers, Keillor’s Lake Wobegon has defined the northern latitudes of the Midwest for his millions of weekly listeners.
No matter how much he continues to write — whether books, newspaper columns or in other media — Keillor seems destined to be best known and remembered for “A Prairie Home Companion.”
“When I was a kid, we listened to all kinds of radio shows: Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Benny, Bob and Ray. When I started ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’ I made it out of little pieces of old shows I listened to,” Keillor said in the documentary.
“Now we have listeners in their 20s and 30s who look on me as a sort of inventor of the form. Eventually, when everybody who remembers Bob and Ray dies off, I may be regarded as a genius. I don’t know.”
Brian Mackey can be reached at (217) 747-9587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.