Erika DiPasquale, Associate Editor
On Monday, February 20th, Kraushaar Auditorium was filled to capacity for the sold out Garrison Keillor Event. The master storyteller was the first performer of “The Power of Storytelling” themed-semester event series, which strives to encourage “learning to gather stories, learning to craft stories, listening to one another’s stories, hearing master storytellers, and community reflection on stories,” according to Emily Perl, Assistant Vice President for Student Success, and leader of the themed-semester committee. The event was funded entirely by the Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Visiting Professorship fund.
Garrison Keillor hosted his very popular radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, from 1974 through July 2016 when he retired. His career earned him 3.5 million listeners on 700 public radio stations and Grammy, ACE, and George Foster Peabody awards, the National Humanities Medal, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He’s also an author of many books and editor of poetry anthologies. According to Emily Perl, Mr. Robert Meyerhoff and Ms. Rheda Becker “were instrumental in the decision to bring Garrison Keillor to campus this semester.”
Keillor entertained the crowd for 2 hours and 45 minutes straight—without stopping. Even during a ten minute intermission about an hour and a half in, he remained on stage and sang nostalgic songs with anyone in the audience willing to join in, expressing more than once how blessed he was to be in the same room as people who know the words to the same songs he knew—something he expects to not experience again in the coming years.
As for the content of his performance, his stories were certainly tailored to the audience, which consisted of more people with gray and white hair than Goucher College students. The age demographics of the audience shouldn’t come as a shock, being that a goal of the themed-semester is “to have a variety of speakers who appeal to different audiences and achieve a number of different goals,” according to Perl. Keillor started with stories about his brother-in-law’s hip replacement and his prostate, and then jumped backwards in time to share stories about college and his childhood. The audience heard stories about his first kiss, childhood punishments, and a couple funerals he’s recently attended. None of the stories he told took place during his impressive radio career. This organizational decision contributed to the development of the theme that “We strive to go far and then we end up back in the same place.”
Another theme he kept circling around to—one that is very relevant to the goals of the storytelling theme semester—is the act of writing things down and being remembered. After his longer stories, he would repeat the statement, “And I thought…I should write about this. But I haven’t written it down because I haven’t figured it out yet.” The first time he thought this, he was six years old. He wished to preserve the memory and prevent himself from simply disappearing from this earth. He wanted to write “to make sense of it.” The “strongest impulse of a writer,” according to Keillor, is “to hold onto the past and not let it vanish.” In his more recent reflections on his own mortality, as his performance illustrated, he’s felt this impulse even more so, in part because of a desire to be quoted posthumously like the greatest writers of all time—something he perceives as more meaningful than if he were to have a building named after him.
Because he told ordinary, relatable stories about his pre- and post- career life, the most resounding take-away from his performance is that anyone can tell their stories and be remembered in any form and style that comes naturally to them. Keillor’s style was one that evoked consistent waves of laughter and involved the audience in song at the beginning, middle, and end. Perl said, “The audience thoroughly enjoyed their evening with Garrison Keillor—I would call it a rousing success!”
A list of the remaining events in the series is below. Reserve your free tickets in advance at http://www.goucher.edu/tickets .
Queen Nur: Monday, February 27th, 7pm
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy: Wednesday, March 1, 7pm
Alec Dun: Thursday, March 23rd, 4:30pm
Ann Hamilton: Thursday, March 30, 6:30pm
Curtis Sittenfeld: Monday, April 3, 7pm
Peter L. Borst: Wednesday, April 5, 7pm
Anna Deveare Smith: Wednesday, April 12, 7pm
Participate in various Story Circle Sessions throughout the semester to listen and share stories in the ATH.
A Day in My Life Abroad: Tuesday, March 7, 4pm
The Place Where I Grew Up: Wednesday, March 22, 3pm
Hair Stories: Tuesday, April 11, 4pm
Goucher Stories: Wednesday, April 19, 3pm
Immigration Stories: Tuesday, April 25, 4pm
Visit http://www.goucher.edu/storytelling for more information about the speakers/performers and the Story Circles.