Good Reads: Studs Terkel
Chicago has had its share of attention this past week ” both the lowest of the low and the highest of the high. In a city hit hard by the economic conditions of the times, coverage of Jennifer Hudson’s tragic loss of her family and the discovery of the body of her seven-year-old nephew saddened Chicagoans. Then, just days later, we witnessed Chicagoans replace that despair with elation as Grant Park overflowed with a quarter of a million people celebrating President-elect Barack Obama’s historical moment and looking optimistically toward the future.
In the middle of all this attention, Chicago lost one of its ‘favorite sons’ on Halloween when Louis ‘Studs’ Terkel passed away at the age of 96. How sorry I was to learn of Terkel’s passing and to know he couldn’t hang on long enough to see Obama, with whom he had marched in the picket lines in Obama’s early years, win the key to the White House. How joyful Studs would have been to watch the “New Turk” focus on, appreciate and try to meet the needs of ordinary people of all persuasions which the “Old Terk” had spent almost a century examining, highlighting and honoring in America.
Studs was a radio host for more than 45 years, but he was best known for interviews with ordinary American people. He loved listening to them and chronicling them in books such as “Division Street,” “Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression,” “Working” and “The Good War,” for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1985.
Back in the McCarthy era of the 1950s, Terkel and his wife Ida, a social worker, were blacklisted. Later he claimed it was one of the best things that happened to him, forcing him into areas other writers did not wish to cover.
To journalists, Terkel meant a lot. Always a good listener, he revealed the beauty of the small stories, and how, in respectful hands, they can go to make up a much bigger one. He always believed the “Big Guys” only matter because of the “Little Guys.” This was the foundation of the American Dream.
“Studs Terkel was everything good about the literary world. Make that the world in general,” wrote Chicago Tribune’s literary editor Elizabeth Taylor. “He was ever curious, always generous, and so full of life. He was Chicago.” He was always determined to speak truth to power and now his books will speak for him. They will always have a place of respect in non-fiction literature. Before his death, when asked about his epitaph, he replied, “My epitaph? My epitaph will be, ‘Curiosity did not kill this cat!'” And it didn’t!
Selected works by Louis ‘Studs’ Terkel:
Giants of Jazz (1957)
Division Street: America (1967)
Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974)
Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970)
The Good War (1984)
Talking to Myself: A Memoir of My Times (1977)
American Dreams: Lost and Found (1983)
The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream (1988)
Race: What Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession (1992).
Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who’ve Lived It (1995)
My American Century (1997)
The Spectator: Talk About Movies and Plays With Those Who Make Them (1999)
Will the Circle be Unbroken: Reflections on Death, Rebirth and Hunger for a Faith (2001)
Hope Dies Last: Keeping the Faith in Difficult Times (2003)
And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey (2005)
Touch and Go (2007)
P.S. Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening (2008)
Barbara’s Good Reads List –
Adults (fiction): “A Mercy” by Toni Morrison (Nobel Prize for Literature winning author)
Young Adult (ages 13-17): “Hunger Game” by Suzanne Collins
Juvenile (fourth through sixth grade): “Rapunzel’s Revenge” by Shannon Hale
Children (second through third grade): “Wish: Wishing Traditions Around the World” by Elisa Kleve
Books for Book Groups – “The Hour I First Believed” by Wally Lamb.