There’s ordinary weariness … and then there’s the weariness that follows autographing more books than should be humanly possible.
“I just finished signing my name 2,000 times, on bits of paper they bound into a new book that’s coming out,” says Garrison Keillor, writer and host of public radio’s ever-popular “A Prairie Home Companion,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
“The Keillor Reader,” the first sweeping anthology of the Anoka, Minn., native’s Lake Wobegon (and other) stories, essays, poems and personal reminiscences — spanning five decades of writing — will be released on May 1.
Before that, on April 1, Keillor brings the full range of his familiar gifts as a raconteur, satirist, lyricist and (arguably) singer to Benaroya Hall for an evening of words and music.
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Keillor will be accompanied on piano during the show by “Prairie Home” music director Rich Dworsky.
“Having Rich there gives us a lot to play with in terms of setting a mood,” Keillor says. “I can probably do a Guy Noir story with him there,” he added, referring to the fictional hard-boiled detective whom Keillor voices on the radio show.
Keillor says the Seattle audience might also expect “a few of my sonnets. There are too many songs in the world and most of them are too long. But a sonnet is 14 lines, an excellent length for just about anything. You can’t tell the story of Prometheus bringing fire, but you can make a clear statement about helpless love, and I think that’s good.”
Keillor will also “talk a little bit about the origins of ‘Prairie Home Companion,’ since the show has been around for 40 years. It has to do with being a young man in flight from his own upbringing and setting out to be somebody different. A stranger to his parents, setting out to be a brilliant poet and then dying young, as a brilliant poet should.
“Instead, I got an early-morning job in radio, which was nothing I was really ambitious to do. I discovered I had to change my life, because the sort of dark, morbid brilliance that I would need as a poet was of no use to people at 6 o’clock in the morning. So that was the end of my serious literary career. I opted instead to create a character, a persona for myself of a cheerful person. Cheerfulness was the very virtue my parents tried to instill in me.
“So I’m going to talk a little about this and about cheerfulness, especially since I don’t look like a cheerful person at all.”
Keillor hosted the first “Prairie Home” broadcast from St. Paul on July 6, 1974. Except for a two-year hiatus in 1987 followed by a temporary name change, “Prairie Home” has been a public radio fixture with an audience of 4 million.
In March of 2011, Keillor announced he would be retiring from the program, which he writes solo each week, in 2013. Nine months later he said he had changed his mind.
“I did intend to retire,” he says. “I thought it was the right thing to do, to leave while the show was a lot of fun, while it was doing well. Time passed — that’s what happened. I stopped talking about leaving, and then plans were being made for the 2014-15 season.”
At age 71, is Keillor still up to the traveling and weekly rigors of a live, two-hour radio program?
“I love to travel. That’s not a problem. I’m a writer and a writer can write anyplace, I find. The rigors of doing the show are mostly imaginary, and almost entirely the results of my own bad habits, those things that writers are susceptible to.”
Despite prospects for “The Keillor Reader” as a likely best-seller, the author isn’t entirely enthusiastic about its release.
“I didn’t want to publish the book, but the publisher, Viking, did,” Keillor says. “It’s a retrospective, so I thought it was a little premature. I’m not done with writing yet.”
Tom Keogh: email@example.com