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Dear Mr. Keillor, Lately, I've

November 24, 2004 |

Dear Mr. Keillor,

Lately, I've been studying your writing and Lake Wobegon monologues, and I'd like to ask:

1) In your early recordings, you have a very distinct mid-west accent that has since worn away. Was this intentional?

2) The dreams you had in your childhood appear to have all come true: you frequently visit New York, you are a famous writer, you have your own library card. How does that feel? Are there dreams from your childhood you have not yet grasped?

3) Who do you think about when you write? Who do you imagine reading your words? I have a picture of you seated at a table with furrowed brow, hands supporting your chin, folded in the "Here is the church, here is the steeple" manner, looking thoughtfully at your laptop. What is going through your mind at that moment?


Rob, thanks for the note. I assume that your study of my work means that you have completed the required reading list (Moby Dick, The Odyssey, Pride and Prejudice, The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace, etc.), so let me try to answer your questions.

(1) I tried to change my voice the moment I got into radio, back at the University of Minnesota, and make it sound like Edward R. Murrow's, or Orson Welles's, or Eric Sevareid's, and probably succeeded in sounding like a kid who was imitating a grown-up. (Of course those three gentlemen all developed their styles by imitating someone else.) By the time PHC started, I was pretty much over trying to sound authoritative and was experimenting with folksiness, which is a good tactic for the dishonest salesman. (That's one more reason I admire John Kerry; he refuses to do that. Every time you see him windsurf or go off on a 400-word sentence with sixteen subordinate clauses, you see a man who told his consultants to take a hike.) I think I was trying to do my Uncle Jim and Uncle Lawrence when I started with PHC. They had slightly husky, slightly high-pitched twangy voices and spoke fluent Midwestern. Since then, my voice has eased into some sort of groove that seems natural and flexible to me — good for declaiming Shakespeare or reading recipes or telling jokes — but of course it changes depending on where I am and who I'm with. With old relatives, I go back to the old dialect. And sometimes, after doing Guy Noir, it's hard to get out of him and into myself.

(2) Life is good and I'm awfully lucky and I resolve to work hard and try to justify the good luck. But this has nothing to do with childhood dreams. My big childhood dream was a nightmare: that I was a terrible sinner and going straight to hell. And this is something you carry around for the rest of your life. I had many religious experiences in my younger days and some in my older days, and none of them ever rid me of that fear. Now that I'm much older, I just tell God from time to time that if He wants to send me to hell, then I forgive Him for it. And I pray that the torment will not be so great that I won't be able to converse with the other sinners.

(3) I was looking at my laptop because a photographer told me to and what I was thinking was, "This looks sort of dopey and why am I doing it?"

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