The Studs Terkel Centenary: Chicago Celebrates Legendary Studs Terkel
May 16th marks the 100th anniversary of Studs Terkel’s birth and an occasion to memorialize one of the most prolific writers and cultural critics in the history of Chicago letters. As an author, broadcaster and oral historian, legendary Chicagoan Studs Terkel celebrated the lives of ordinary Americans. Some of Terkel’s many friends and fans are hoping to return the favor with a series of events marking the 100th birthday of a man whose work is a chronicle of the 20th century.
The Studs Terkel Centenary, a group headed up by Terkel’s friends, including Chicago Tribune reporter Rick Kogan, on Saturday will rededicate the Division Street Bridge, which was named after Terkel 20 years ago. On Wednesday, The Newberry Library will host a birthday party featuring guest speakers who will share stories about Studs. Terkel’s friends will ensure that his memory lives on with a day of Studs-only programming on WFMT-FM on his birthday, with performances of passages from Terkel’s 2001 book Will the Circle Be Unbroken? at Steppenwolf Theatre next week and by phoning in personal anecdotes about Terkel to a hotline set up by Chicago’s Hull House Museum.
A Tribute: Remembering Studs Terkel
Studs Terkel: The Human Voice (StoryCorps)
Remembering Studs Terkel: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
The New York Times reported that Chicago’s legendary Studs Terkel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose searching interviews with ordinary Americans helped establish oral history as a serious genre, and who for decades was the enthusiastic host of a popular nationally syndicated radio show on WFMT-FM in Chicago, died at his home at the age of 96.
In his oral histories, which he called guerrilla journalism, Mr. Terkel relied on his effusive but gentle interviewing style to bring forth in rich detail the experiences and thoughts of his fellow citizens. For more than the four decades, Studs produced a continuous narrative of great historic moments sounded by an American chorus in the native vernacular.
Division Street: America (1966), his first best seller, explored the urban conflicts of the 1960s. Its success led to Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) and Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974).
Mr. Terkel’s book The Good War: An Oral History of World War II won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. In Talking to Myself: A Memoir of My Times (1977), Terkel turned the microphone on himself to produce an engaging memoir. In Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession (1992) and Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who’ve Lived It (1995), he reached for his ever-present tape recorder for interviews on race relations in the United States and the experience of growing old.
In 1985, a reviewer for The Financial Times of London characterized his books as “completely free of sociological claptrap, armchair revisionism and academic moralizing.” The amiable Mr. Terkel was a gifted and seemingly tireless interviewer who elicited provocative insights and colorful, detailed personal histories from a broad mix of people. “The thing I’m able to do, I guess, is break down walls,” he once told an interviewer. “If they think you’re listening, they’ll talk. It’s more of a conversation than an interview.”
Readers of his books could only guess at Mr. Terkel’s interview style. Listeners to his daily radio show, which was first broadcast on WFMT-FM in 1958, got the full flavor as Studs, with both breathy eagerness and a tough-guy Chicago accent, went after the straight dope from guests like Sir Georg Solti, Muhammed Ali, Mahalia Jackson, the young Dob Dylan, Toni Morrison and Gloria Steinem.
The entire New York Times article can be read here.
Rick Kogan has written a detailed article in The Chicago Tribune, which can be read here.
Studs Terkel’s website at The Chicago Historical Society can be accessed here.
Studs Terkel’s (1970) WFMT-FM radio interview with me (Patrick Zimmerman) can be heard here. Parts of this radio interview later become a selection (pp. 489-493) in Terkel’s acclaimed book, Working:
Audio: Part I of The Radio Interview
Audio: Part II of The Radio Interview
Studs Terkel: Remembering His Life and Times
Conversations about Studs Terkel (2004)
Studs Terkel: About the Human Spirit (2002)
Studs Terkel: The Pioneering Broadcaster
Music Audio: Mavis Staples/Hard Times
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