Radio and poetry have long since surrendered their places in the cultural spotlight to television and prose, but humorist Garrison Keillor has fixed them up together on the airwaves for "The Writer's Almanac," and they're getting along famously.
Every weekday between 7:30 and 7:40 a.m. on KUSC-FM (91.5), a lonely piano plunks out a few bars of Dvorak's Slavonic Dance No. 8, and, over this snatch of music, Keillor's voice floats in--that enveloping voice, the one he has described as "flat and slow" and that has somehow survived many years of smoking. It is that rare thing today, a voice more recognizable than the mug that mouths it, and every weekday since New Year's it has reliably begun each broadcast: "And here is "The Writer's Almanac" for Jan. 1. . . . "
Next comes a brief rundown of events in American literary history that took place on the date in question. Birthdays and dates of death figure prominently, of course, but so does the day F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel was accepted by Scribner's, and he ran into the middle of the street to inform passersby.
The literary calendar takes up half of "The Writer's Almanac." The other half is given over to a poem, usually written by someone already mentioned in the calendar, and spoken by Keillor with that vaguely Scandinavian swing that, thanks primarily to his work, listeners around the country now recognize as Minnesotan. "One just wants to stay away from the poetry-reading voice," Keillor comments, "which tends to be like the Sunday morning ministerial voice, sort of unctuous and heavy and dripping with significance."