Friday April 4, 2008

Find Your Voice

Storyteller and humorist Garrison Keillor kicked off the University of Dayton's 2008 Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop with a keynote speech advising more than 300 writers to 'get out.'

A writer can't put words to paper without taking time to observe life up close, storyteller and humorist Garrison Keillor told more than 300 writers from around the country in an April 3 keynote speech kicking off the University of Dayton's 2008 Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop.

"My advice to writers is very simple. It is to get out," he said. "It is to get out for long walks. Writing is an obsessive activity. Walk for two or three miles everyday — rapidly if necessary — and get out and look at the world. When writing loses touch with the beautiful surface of the world, it loses its way."

With the Bombeck family in the audience, Keillor devoted a good portion of his talk to Erma Bombeck's legacy.

"She was a great writer, a writer always true to her audience. She knew the people from whom she came. She was never guilty of the arrogance that creeps over writers when they become famous," said Keillor whose more than a dozen books include Lake Wobegon Days, The Book of Guys, Love Me, Homegrown Democrat and Pontoon.

Drawing laughs, he asked, "What does it take to be a writer of humor? It takes a difficult childhood. If you had a happy childhood, you should go into orthodontics or the priesthood." Later, he advised, "You need to be able to court disaster."

Keillor described Bombeck as a "strong feminist and a devout Catholic" from Dayton, Ohio, who wrote in a universal language. "She didn't write about God. She would write about children. In writing about children, she wrote about God.

"She won the friendship of millions and millions of women and grudgingly of men — even though she said, 'God created man, and I could have done better.' "

Telling illustrative stories and breaking into songs about his hardscrabble childhood in wintery Minnesota, the creator, host and writer of public radio's "A Prairie Home Companion" said that all writing is compassion — even satire.

Noting that "nothing comes naturally when it involves language," Geillor advised writers to trust their voice.

"You've inherited your voice from other people," he said. "Once you find your voice, stay with it and trust it."

The Erma Bombeck Workshop continues through April 5. The workshop is sponsored by the University of Dayton National Alumni Association, Cold Tree Press, Andrews McMeel Publishing, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, American Greetings, Books & Company, Dayton Marriott, National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Dayton Daily News and the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop Endowment.

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