I recall the gut-punch impact Studs Terkel’s book Working had on me when I read it as a teenager: I had never realized so many people actually worked in “menial” jobs, nor that there is dignity and self-respect in dong ANY job well. It meshed neatly with my understanding of Pirsig’s “quality” from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: how you do it is as important as what you do. And Terkel’s method of letting real people speak for themselves in their own voices reinforced the dignity of the individual: every man a king.
At 90+ Terkel has been around forever – his progressive agenda forged in the fires of depression-era Chicago – and his voice is still young and sprited. The is an excellent and historically rich new site up called Studs Terkel: Conversations With America, is a collection of audio interviews he conducted for his books and his radio program:
- Studs Terkel’s multifaceted life has produced an equally rich and varied legacy of research materials. After graduating from University of Chicago’s Law School in 1934, Terkel pursued acting and appeared on stage, in radio, and in the movies. He has been a playwright, a radio news commentator, a sportscaster, and a film narrator, and has worked as a jazz columnist, a disc jockey, and a music festival host. He even served briefly as a civil service employee but is best known as a radio network personality and as a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of books. His award winning books are based on his extensive conversations with Americans from all walks of life that chronicle the profound and often tumultuous changes in our nation during the twentieth century. On “The Studs Terkel Program”, which was heard on Chicago’s fine arts radio station WFMT from 1952 to 1997, Terkel interviewed Chicagoans and national and international figures who helped shape the past century. The program included guests who were politicians, writers, activists, labor organizers, performing artists, and architects among others. Terkel is remarkable in the depth of his personal knowledge of the diverse subjects explored on his program and his ability to get others to talk about themselves and what they do best. Many of the interviews he conducted for his books and for his radio program are featured here.
Studs Terkel’s work has been highly praised and recognized in the world of arts and letters. He is the recipient of numerous book awards including the Pulitzer Prize for The Good War (1985), the Irita Van Doren Book Award, and two National Book Award nominations. Terkel received the Presidential National Humanities Medal (1999), the National Medal of Humanities (1997), the Illinois Governor’s Award for the Arts, the Clarence Darrow Commemorative Award, and he has been cited by the Friends of Literature for his “unique contributions to the cultural life of Chicago.” His radio programs have been honored with the Prix Italia, three Ohio State Awards, three Major Armstrong Awards, and the George Foster Peabody Award for The Studs Terkel Program (1980). He is currently Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the Chicago Historical Society.
Jan Herman had a nice piece on Studs back in December:
- Although “Hope Dies Last” has been described as a summation of his long career, Terkel sounds at 91 like someone just starting out. “I thought, why not a book about all those who have had hope, and have taken their beatings and paid their dues — but as a result of what they’ve done, something has happened,” he says. The book is about “the prophetic minority … people who we call activists. Who are imbued with a sort of hope and craziness, you know — who some way or another hope our society, or the world, will be a more decent place to live in. They imbue all the rest of us with hope.”
A man of his time as perhaps no other, Terkel cites Feb. 15, 2003, as a special day. “I celebrate that day,” he says, “because 10 million people all over the world came out against the preemptive strike [against Iraq]. And then there was silence, because for three days it looked like W. was the liberator of Iraq. Then, well, we know what happened.”
He adds: “If ever there were a time for these people, who I’ve admired for years, this is it. There was Tom Paine, there were the abolitionists. In the ’60s there were the African-Americans who fought for civil rights, the kids against the war. Who were a minority, remember; the jocks beat the shit out of them at first and then joined them later. That’s what I mean by a prophetic minority.”
Audio selections on the site include interviews from The Studs Terkel Program, Division Street, Hard Times, The Good War, Race, Talking to Myself, and a Greatest Hits section. Spend some time with Studs – you won’t regret it.