Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.
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A Sobering Sight
June 2, 2009 |
Post to the Host:
How on earth did you get into writing what you do and A Prairie Home Companion? I am a writer (young-ish and unproduced). Recently, I left New York City for the farm. In the city I wrote of lofty themes to please myself. But on the farm, my aim is to entertain my fellow farmhands or be scorned. While at grad school I learned writing, on the farm I learned the more difficult and humble art of story telling. I was curious as to how you started out and do you think of yourself as a story teller?
I'm not a storyteller, Stella, but I impersonate one and that is almost as good. Storytelling is an intimate art, practiced between people who know each other well, and I've known some great ones, a sculptor named Joe O'Connell and my great-uncle Lew Powell and the late Chet Atkins. Chet was a true storyteller. He blanched at the thought of doing it onstage, but when he drove you around in his pickup truck, he'd tell a whole string of stories, some of them ribald, about Nashville stars and he'd imitated their voices beautifully and he embroidered the stories beautifully and, listening to him, I just sat and laughed and wished we'd drive forever. I don't have that gift. What I do have is chutzpah, to stand up in front of an audience and take them into my confidence and try to tell a story, which often as not turns into an essay instead. But sometimes it hits on all two cylinders. I started out, as you did, writing lofty things and then, out of curiosity, got started as a performer, and that, as you know, is a whole other game. The difference between high lit and performance is that high-lit writers can imagine that their readers are as fascinated as they are. In performance, you can see the audience and that is a sobering sight. There is nothing so scary as seeing an audience look off toward the wings, hoping that someone else comes out soon and does something interesting.