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Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.

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January 25, 2008 |

Dear Mr. Keillor:
I'm an English Education major at St. Olaf College and love it. I want to inspire people to develop a love of reading, writing, seeing plays, and all that other stuff. What was your reason for majoring in English?
Did you always have a sense of going into radio? Any fall-back plans?
Keep up the good work on the air waves.

Taylor Brorby
Northfield, MN

A good Norwegian name, Brorby, which means "brother town," which might be similar to our Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, but which one is the brother and which is the sister? We hear the phrase "sister city" often but never "brother city". How might one decide the gender of towns? — There's why one majors in English, Taylor, the dumb fascination with words, which goes back to childhood, the little boy (me) in the backseat of the car reading the billboards as Daddy speeds along and even the names on mailboxes, words flying by, advertisements for dairies and deluxe restaurants (the word "deluxe" savored on the tongue, over and over, like a piece of steak), and perhaps this fascination is even stronger in a child (me) who had a harder time learning to read — maybe the quick and facile all went on to law school and the little toiler somehow fell in love with what was harder for him. And then, too, hovering over my childhood was the King James Bible in all of its majesty, read and quoted from daily. And being strict Christians we had no TV and wouldn't go to movies, so I was never seduced by the screen. I was seduced by Sinclair Lewis and Thoreau and Dickens and novels about tramp steamers setting out from San Francisco to the Orient and Fitzgerald writing about poor boys in love with rich girls, and that is a river that leads you to major in English. It doesn't go anywhere else.

I had no interest in radio until it dawned on me that I needed to earn money and couldn't do that by writing sonnets and essays. I had no fall-back plan, none at all. Didn't want to teach (too hard) and wasn't disciplined enough to work in an office, so radio was perfect. I found radio when I was in college and though I quit it several times, most recently in 1987, I came back to it and here I am, a very lucky man indeed. To be able to make so many mistakes and not sink the ship. I'm a guy at retirement age who feels he is just starting out. I assume my wife will tell me when it's time to stop. She was a music major and has an excellent sense of pitch.

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