It’s been four decades since Garrison Keillor aired the first episode of A Prairie Home Companion on Minnesota Public Radio. Since then, his mellifluous voice and humorous tales from the fictional town of Lake Wobegon have captured the hearts of millions, while his weekly episodes of The Writer’s Almanac have developed their own loyal following.
Next Wednesday, April 2, UCSB Arts & Lectures brings Keillor to Santa Barbara for the first time since 2009. He’ll appear at the Granada Theatre alongside his longtime collaborator, pianist Richard Dworsky, in an evening of stories, music, skits, and unusually personal material from his forthcoming book, The Keillor Reader, due out in May from Viking.
“This new collection has some longish memoiristic essays in it,” Keillor explained over the phone from St. Paul last week. “I’ve written about my mother, and what a cheerful person she was up until the end. Cheerfulness was something she really believed in, being a child of the Depression. I’d never really written memoir; I transmogrified it all into Lake Wobegon. So this is kind of exciting.”
The Keillor Reader combines some of the writer’s best poems, essays, and Prairie Home Companion monologues alongside previously unpublished material. Among the latter is an essay titled “What We Have Learned So Far.” I asked Keillor for a hint as to that essay’s contents.
“It’s a list,” he explained. “I don’t think I’ve ever written a list before. I’ve sort of disparaged lists in the past, you know: 15 Ways to Strengthen Your Abs, or 24 Ways to Cook Sauerkraut. But a list seemed to be the natural form for these pieces of scattered wisdom that at the age of 70 I thought I should write down. I asked myself, ‘What do I have to tell people that they ought to know?’ Things like: Tall people cannot depend on short people to look out for things that we might bump our heads on. We have to take care of this ourselves.”
Keillor’s caricatures of small-town Minnesota serve to define that region for many coastal dwellers, but when asked to turn his keen eye for cultural tics on Santa Barbara, Keillor demurred at first.
“I know nothing whatsoever,” he claimed before adding, “The young people I know in California are extremely bright, and they’re also athletic. They run, they surf, they rollerblade, and yet they can sit down and read James Joyce’s Ulysses. Growing up in the Midwest, there was this division: Either you were a jock or you were a brain. I think that in California, young people discovered for the first time that you could be both.”
UCSB Arts & Lectures brings Garrison Keillor and pianist Richard Dworsky to the Granada on Wednesday, April 2, at 8 p.m. For tickets, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.