Garrison Keillor to bring his signature wit to the National Archives

(Courtesy of A Prairie Home Companion.)
(Courtesy of A Prairie Home Companion.)

Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon’s favorite son, has just published his first one-volume collection of stories, essays and poems. Some of these pieces are fluffier than a Powdermilk Biscuit. Most are witty and touching. All are above average.

“I was leery about assembling a collection, a retrospective, since it suggests that the author is done, finished, possibly ill, which I am not — none of the above — but I have loved other writers’ Selected Works and so did this Reader,” Keillor says via e-mail.

“The Keillor Reader” (Viking, $27.95) is being released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of “A Prairie Home Companion,” the weekly radio show heard by 4 million listeners on more than 600 public radio stations.

The book “includes the story of a professional wrestler, a scene in which I shoot a publisher Mr. Crossandotti, an essay on cheerfulness in honor of my late mother, a monologue about a pontoon boat and a gang of Lutheran pastors, some poems, columns and a reminiscence of the New Yorker that is a tissue of lies,” Keillor says.

In fact, the very first item in the collection is a reproduction of the letter New Yorker editor Roger Angell sent him in 1970, offering to buy a story called “Local Family Keeps Son Happy.” Receiving that letter, Keillor recalls, “I sat down on the front step of our rented house at 222 30th Avenue North and thought, ‘Now my life is not entirely wasted.’”

“The Keillor Reader” also includes a few personal photographs, a gracious introductory essay and remarks sprinkled throughout that provide context for the various pieces. With Father’s Day coming up, this could be the perfect present. It’s healthier than chewing tobacco, and you don’t have to spit.

(Courtesy of Viking)
(Courtesy of Viking)

To promote his new book, Keillor, 71, will be coming to a city that knows how to keep its secrets: Washington. On May 22, he’ll be at the National Archives for a reading and book-signing. This event, which is free and open to the public — first-come-first-serve — is in conjunction with the National Archives’s current exhibit, “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures.”

Keillor’s appearance at the Archives is the result of an invitation from Visitor Services Manager Douglas Swanson. “Garrison Keillor fits into our ‘Making Their Mark’ exhibit because he’s got a signature style,” Swanson says. “He’s made a mark on public radio.” A former park ranger, Swanson has long been a fan of the show. “I’m from Minnesota. You have to be a fan of the show if you’re from Minnesota.”

Keillor feels honored to appear next to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. “I am encouraged by the fact that our National Archives has room for silliness,” he says. “I shall walk in with my head held high.”

If you want to walk in, go early. There are 300 seats in the Archives’s McGowan Theater. “Some folks will start lining up at 4:30 in the afternoon,” Swanson warns. The National Archives is at 700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Take Metro’s Yellow or Green lines to the Archives/Navy Memorial station.

Keillor will host “A Prairie Home Companion” at Wolf Trap on May 23 and 24, and he’ll be at the Barnes & Noble in Bethesda on May 25.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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