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Dear Mr. Keillor- Until it

May 25, 2006 |

Dear Mr. Keillor-
Until it was mentioned in the May 20, 2006 program from Iceland, I was unaware that you were teaching a writing course. Do your students' papers reveal the same general decline in grammar and punctuation seen elsewhere in the country? I hope for their sake you're a tough grader, since a nation that loses the distinction between "lie" and "lay" in its own language is surely headed for trouble. We risk having all those misplaced apostrophes gathered up by some hostile power and fired at us like grapeshot! I had a look at some work from a local college of good reputation, and even there, they're not sure of their homonyms. I fear for our young.

Doric D.
Southhampton, MA

The course was entitled "Composition of Comedy" (University of Minnesota, Creative Writing Program, 3110) and it drew 140 students, so at the moment I am a little light-headed from reading all of their final papers. Some of the writers wrote perfectly punctuated papers, others had problems with, say, putting an apostrophe in a plural (ten apple's, ten orange's) and some had persistent spelling gaffes (They took they're baseballs and went home) and of course there was some lay/lie confusion, but I tried not to beat on them. I wanted them to inhale the gas of comedy and breathe deep and let fly, and many of them did just that. The course was about rewriting: you got two chances to rewrite your paper and each time I critiqued it and tried to mark up the mistakes. And the results were so good, I thought, that I'm going to edit a collection of the students' stuff and you'll hear more about it on this Web site in the early fall.

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