The Studs Terkel Centenary: Chicago Celebrates Legendary Studs Terkel

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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In Memoriam: Images of Notable People Who Passed in 2008

In Memoriam: Images of Notable People Who Passed in 2008

Music: Mavis Staples/Hard Times

In Memoriam: Images of Notable People Who Passed in 2008

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Chicago’s Studs Terkel Dies at 96: A Champion of the Human Spirit

Chicago’s Studs Terkel Dies at 95: A Champion of the Human Spirit

NBC News: Chicago’s Studs Terkel Dies at the Age of 96

Studs Terkel Dies: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

The New York Times has 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 Friday at his home there 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.

Now that the author-radio host-actor-activist and Chicago symbol has died, what should be his epitaph? “My epitaph will be ‘Curiosity did not kill this cat,'” he once said.

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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Trumbo: Reminders of Political Persecution in America

Trumbo: Reminders of Political Persecution in America

The Fall of Dalton Trumbo

Trumbo is a new film about the Hollywood blacklisting of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, opening in theaters this week. The film includes a wealth of documentary footage from the House Un-American Activities Committee years and is, in its own way, a very personalized history of the notorious Hollywood blacklist.

Dalton Trumbo was a prolific Hollywood screenwriter who wrote dozens of movie scripts during the 1930s and ’40s, including Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and Kitty Foyle. His anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun won the National Book Award in 1939. But in 1947, Trumbo was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as part of the Hollywood Ten, who were questioned about their ties to the Communist Party. Trumbo refused to testify and was found in contempt of Congress.

Subsequently, he was kicked out of the screenwriter’s guild, and all of the Hollywood motion picture studios almost immediately blacklisted him. For his refusal to testify in the HUAC hearings, Trumbo eventually served nearly a year in federal prison. Dalton Trumbo’s ruination took him from being one of Hollywood’s highest-paid writers to a Hollywood pariah.

After Trumbo was released from prison, he remained on Hollywood’s blacklist for nearly a decade, but went on to have a prodigious writing career under a list of at least 13 pseudonyms (writing for films that included Roman Holiday, Gun Crazy, The Brave One). Trumbo’s film The Brave One, written under the pseudonym Robert Rich, won an Academy Award in 1957. It is the only unclaimed Oscar in the history of the Academy Awards. Trumbo finally received credit for his work on Exodus and Spartacus in 1960.

In 1970, Dalton Trumbo delivered a speech about the HUAC hunt for good guys and bad, which contained this admonishment: “There was bad faith and good, honesty and dishonesty, courage and cowardice, selflessness and opportunism, wisdom and stupidity, good and bad on both sides; and almost every individual involved, no matter where he stood, combined some or all of these antithetical qualities in his own person, in his own acts.”

Dalton Trumbo’s life story stands as a poignant reminder of a weird, scary time, a paranoid era which, some think, could happen again. Some Hollywood observers maintain that the potential for similar political persecution still exists, perhaps not in the exact form it happened before. However, they claim that there are things going on now in the current political administration that should serve as reminders that it could happen again.

Dalton Trumbo: A Blacklisted Writer in His Own Words:

The Hollywood Ten (Trumbo, 2nd Row, Left)

The Hollywood Ten

A Letter from Prison to My Wife: Read by Actor Josh Lucas

Trumbo: The Official 2008 Movie Trailer

Studs Terkel: A National Literary Icon

Studs Terkel and the HUAC Blacklist

This article has also been written in honor of a friend, 96 years old Studs Terkel. At the time when Senator McCarthy began blacklisting supposed subversives, Studs Terkel hosted Studs’ Place, a network television program on NBC, and wrote a regular column for the Chicago Sun Times. However, immediately after he refused to give names to McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee, NBC pulled his television program and the Sun-Times cancelled his newspaper column. Terkel was unable to work until 1953, when a Chicago radio station hired him, telling Terkel “p*ss on the blacklist.” Subsequently, Terkel has written a number of acclaimed books, won the Pulitzer Prize (1985), two National Book Awards, and received The National Humanities Award (1997) and The George Polk Career Award (1999).

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Wired: Federal Wiretap Surveillance Now

Wired: The Wiretap Now

Studs Terkel, the eminent chronicler of American life, has written this Op-Ed piece in today’s edition of the New York Times:

“EARLIER this month, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the White House agreed to allow the executive branch to conduct dragnet interceptions of the electronic communications of people in the United States. They also agreed to “immunize” American telephone companies from lawsuits charging that after 9/11 some companies collaborated with the government to violate the Constitution and existing federal law. I am a plaintiff in one of those lawsuits, and I hope Congress thinks carefully before denying me, and millions of other Americans, our day in court.

During my lifetime, there has been a sea change in the way that politically active Americans view their relationship with government. In 1920, during my youth, I recall the Palmer raids in which more than 10,000 people were rounded up, most because they were members of particular labor unions or belonged to groups that advocated change in American domestic or foreign policy. Unrestrained surveillance was used to further the investigations leading to these detentions, and the Bureau of Investigation — the forerunner to the F.B.I. — eventually created a database on the activities of individuals. This activity continued through the Red Scare of the period.

In the 1950s, during the sad period known as the McCarthy era, one’s political beliefs again served as a rationale for government monitoring….I was among those blacklisted for my political beliefs. My crime? I had signed petitions. Lots of them. I had signed on in opposition to Jim Crow laws and poll taxes and in favor of rent control and pacifism. Because the petitions were thought to be Communist-inspired, I lost my ability to work in television and radio after refusing to say that I had been “duped” into signing my name to these causes.

By the 1960s, the inequities in civil rights and the debate over the Vietnam war spurred social justice movements. The government’s response? More surveillance. In the name of national security, the F.B.I. conducted warrantless wiretaps of political activists, journalists, former White House staff members and even a member of Congress.

Then things changed….In 1978, with broad public support, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which placed national security investigations, including wiretapping, under a system of warrants approved by a special court. The law was not perfect, but as a result of its enactment and a series of subsequent federal laws, a generation of Americans has come to adulthood protected by a legal structure and a social compact making clear that government will not engage in unbridled, dragnet seizure of electronic communications.

The Bush administration, however, tore apart that carefully devised legal structure and social compact. To make matters worse, after its intrusive programs were exposed, the White House and the Senate Intelligence Committee proposed a bill that legitimized blanket wiretapping without individual warrants….

I have observed and written about American life for some time. In truth, nothing much surprises me anymore. But I always feel uplifted by this: Given the facts and an opportunity to act, the body politic generally does the right thing. By revealing the truth in a public forum, the American people will have the facts to play their historic, heroic role in putting our nation back on the path toward freedom. That is why we deserve our day in court.”

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Studs Terkel: A National Literary Icon

Studs Terkel: A National Literary Icon

Studs Terkel, now approaching the age of 94, has just published his latest book, And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey. In addition to Terkel, Chicago has been the home or springboard for many other American authors of great renown, including the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, Theodore Dreiser (Sister Carrie), Phillip Roth, James Purdy, James Farrell (Studs Lonigan), Saul Bellow, Richard Stern and others. However, for some fifty years, Studs Terkel’s works have consistently served as a testament to the voice of the common man, imprinting that voice upon the national and international “minds.”

Studs’ works have included, among many others, Division Street: America, Hard Times, Working, The Good War and Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession. He has been the recipient of many national awards for his works, including the Pulitzer Prize and two National Book Awards.

For those familiar with his work, it should come as no surprise that the hallmark virtue of Studs Terkel’s newest oral history, And They All Sang, is its limitless breadth of spirit. The book collects more that 40 interviews conducted over the past 50 years with singers, musicians, composers and producers for the daily radio show that he hosted on a Chicago’s radio station, WFMT-FM. WFMT had it’s humble beginnings in a small studio located in the basement of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry; over the years, it has grown to be a nationally reknowned voice for the fine arts, receiving numerous prestigious national broadcasting awards.

In Terkel’s latest publication, there is no shortage of major musical figures, or of insightful observations about their music. Louis Armstrong, Leonard Bernstein, Bob Dylan, Mahalia Jackson, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Guthrie, Ravi Shankar and Aaron Copeland constitute just a sampling of the musical legends with whom Terkel engages, and their remarks alone–about their own work and the creative process in general–make this book well worthwhile. But far more valuable are the inspiring assumptions upon which these conversations are based.

We live in a time of bitter partisan divisiveness, where forms of communication have evolved into seemingly ever-expanding, microscopically defined segments. The intention of this activity appears to be to assure that increasingly intolerant audiences will always be guaranteed the opportunity to never, or at least only rarely, encounter an idea, person or political/cultural perspective with which they aren’t familiar or that they don’t already like or embrace.

To say the absolute least, that is not the way that Studs Terkel has approached the world. He has always approached his work from the viewpoint of an opportunity to speak to other people as a journey of discovery, an adventure, a continual fountain of fulfilling surprise. His books have always been triumphs of simplicity and basic human virtue. They are firmly bound to Terkel’s conviction that if he treats his subjects with respect, listens carefully and attentively to what they have to say and takes their concerns seriously (though never humorlessly), they will repay him with honesty. His newest book, And They All Sang, comes closest to capturing what Terkel has always achieved in his writings, which are both wildly ambitious and yet as casual as can be.

The singing metaphor in Terkel’s latest work comes ever-closer to describing how he has achieved his singularly magnificent approach, functioning almost like a producer, working behind the scenes to coax extraordinary spoken performances from his subjects. His goal is to elicit arias in speech. And, like most great producers, he is essentially content to erase his own participation and permit his subjects to shine through him, as if his role is utterly transparent. Of course, it is not. Terkel has achieved the perfection of the art that conceals art. In fact, to appear casual in approaching very serious matters is a very difficult task. And because Studs likes to make himself appear invisible, his occasional interventions have always been some of the more delectable and inspiring pleasures in his interviews and writings.

In conclusion, it has always been the common human voice that Terkel has drawn out and captured. Underlying the conversations that he has presented over the years is the trust that people can come to understand each other, and that the more understanding that we are able to achieve, the better off we will all be. It is a faith that has been tested and has stood the test. Studs has lived through, and often written about, the Depression, World War II, the Joseph McCarthy witch-hunts and blacklists (which Terkel personally experienced), the civil rights struggles, Vietnam and 9/11. He continues to hear and listen to America, and the world, singing.

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