All right Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up

02 November 2008

The Good StoryTeller-In Appreciation, Studs Terkel

"My epitaph? My epitaph will be 'Curiosity did not kill this cat..."

He was an Author, an Actor, an Activist,a Radio Personality and an American Original. He devoted his life to a simple act-listening. Studs Terkel also had a lot to say and through his writing and radio show he chronicled his conversations that recorded the social history of the second half of twentieth century America. He told the stories that define the American fabric. He celebrated the uncelebrated lives in this country.

Studs Terkel was a national treasure. It is so sad that he would leave us just days before an historic election filled with stories he would have loved to tell.

He was born in 1912, " the Titanic went down, I came up" . In his youth his family moved to the most American of cities, Chicago, where he would become a part of that cities rich literary tradition., he became a symbol for the city that beats the heart of this country. Born Louis Terkel he borrowed his name from Chicago writer James T. Farrell's literary character Studs Lonigan. Trained in the law he found his life's work through one of FDR's work projects in the Depression. The Writer's Project brought Terkel to writing for radio and later the golden days of television with his own show Stud's Place which took place in a tavern. Changes in television and blacklisting by McCarthyism would bring him back to radio.

When he was in his 50s Terkel started his next career- writing books that chronicled conversations he had with the famous and most especially the everyday workers. This would become his theme, telling American stories, tales of workers and jazz musicians, heroes and history, Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, The Good War, An Oral History of World War Two are some of his most lauded work...filled with real lives, real stories and the truths of America as told to Terkel. These brought him acclaim and prizes, the Pulitzer, the National Arts and Humanities medal..., but he remained the conduit of Everyman and the activism of his times.

"I hope for peace and sanity — it's the same thing."

His show ended in 1998 and he then spent his time at the Chicago History museum which houses over 9,000 hours of his conversations, memories of lives and history-"Vox Humana:The Human Voice" Visit to listen to Studs Terkel's Conversations with America

He never stopped working, writing, having conversations. Despite ill health and the devastating loss of his wife of over 60 years he kept talking, listening, writing. His last book will be published this month, P.S.: Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening . He spoke his mind and spoke up for those who needed a voice.

Dressed in his signature red and white check shirt Terkel was known not only for his being a character but also for his character. He became the American conscience, telling the stories of people in need, writing to tell the truths of history, working for civil rights-he wrote one of the most revealing books on race in this country-Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession
His conversations and his life's work were dedicated to making this country just.

With age his mind and his enthusiasm remained sharp and passionate. In an interview with the Huffington Report's Edward Lifson on this election and Barack Obama he said,

"Community organizers like Obama know what's going on. If they remember. The important thing is memory. You know in this country, we all have Alzheimer's. Obama has got to remember his days as an organizer. It all comes back to the neighborhood. Well I hope the election is a landslide for Obama. "

Thank you Studs Terkel and as he always closed his show-"Take it easy...but take it."