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Famous Writers

February 7, 2003 |

Dear Mr. Keillor:

What do you say to other famous writers when you meet them? Do you discuss publishing statistics or point out that the last novel had a weak ending? Perhaps just general topics? Are others jealous of your commercial success and the fact that you sing so well?

Ruth Morss
Boston, MA

Ruth, my contacts with the great and famous are few indeed, but inevitably pleasant. You just have to get over the fear that the big cheese might turn to you and ask you to discuss his work. In fact, large cheeses don't care if you've read their work: they just want people to stop genuflecting and mumbling and start being themselves. I met Garry Wills, one of America's most prolific scholars, and he and I talked about politics, and when I met Norman Mailer, I simply listened to him talk about what he'd done that day (he'd portrayed Hemingway in a play). George Plimpton is an elegant raconteur, and Calvin Trillin is as affable as they come, especially if you inquire about his granddaughter Isabel the Wonder Tot. Arthur Schlesinger and I talked about the Democratic Farmer Labor party of Minnesota, and Russell Baker talked about his children and I wrote a limerick for his wife Mimi that rhymed her with "dreamy" and "sashimi". Dave Barry had not yet written a novel when I met him, so I couldn't harp on his ending, which I'm sure is weak. We'd never discuss sales or other statistics, of course. Much too well-bred. Other writers are envious of my singing, of course, and also of my limpid prose style. My commercial success, however, was a long time ago and didn't last long.

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