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Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel

Overview
Louis "Studs" Terkel was an American author, historian, actor, and broadcaster. He received the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction
Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction
The Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction has been awarded since 1962 for a distinguished book of non-fiction by an American author that is not eligible for consideration in another category.-1960s:...

 in 1985 for The Good War
The Good War
"The Good War": An Oral History of World War Two is a telling of the oral history of World War II written by Studs Terkel. The work won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction...

, and is best remembered for his oral histories
Oral history
Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews...

 of common Americans, and for hosting a long-running radio show in Chicago.

Terkel was born to Samuel Terkel, a Russian Jewish
History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union
The vast territories of the Russian Empire at one time hosted the largest populations of Jews in the diaspora. Within these territories the Jewish community flourished and developed many of modern Judaism's most distinctive theological and cultural traditions, while also facing periods of...

 tailor and his wife, Anna Finkelin in New York City, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

. At the age of eight he moved with his family to Chicago, Illinois
Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

, where he spent most of his life.
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Quotations

Something was still there, that something that distinguishes an artist from a performer: the revealing of self. Here I be. Not for long, but here I be. In sensing her mortality, we sensed our own.

On seeing a 1956 performance by Billie Holiday, Talking to Myself Bk. 4 (1977) Ch. 4

At a time when pimpery, lick-spittlery, and picking the public's pocket are the order of the day — indeed, officially proclaimed as virtue — the poet must play the madcap to keep his balance. And ours.

On Nelson Algren|Nelson Algren, Talking to Myself Bk. 4 (1977)

Chicago is not the most corrupt American city, it's the most theatrically corrupt.

The Dick Cavett Show (9 June 1978)

I'm celebrated for celebrating the uncelebrated.

For the first book, I interviewed one mother of four little kids, skinny, pretty, bad teeth — meaning no dental care — and the kids are jumping around, 'cause they want to hear their mamma's voice played back... and so I play it back, and she listens to what she said on the tape and she says, 'Oh my God,' she says. ' I never knew I felt that way before' ... That's pretty hot stuff, isn't it? That's hot stuff. That's the stuff.

You know, "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely"? It's the same with powerlessness. Absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely. Albert Einstein|Einstein said everything had changed since the atom was split, except the way we think. We have to think anew.

Encyclopedia
Louis "Studs" Terkel was an American author, historian, actor, and broadcaster. He received the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction
Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction
The Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction has been awarded since 1962 for a distinguished book of non-fiction by an American author that is not eligible for consideration in another category.-1960s:...

 in 1985 for The Good War
The Good War
"The Good War": An Oral History of World War Two is a telling of the oral history of World War II written by Studs Terkel. The work won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction...

, and is best remembered for his oral histories
Oral history
Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews...

 of common Americans, and for hosting a long-running radio show in Chicago.

Early life


Terkel was born to Samuel Terkel, a Russian Jewish
History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union
The vast territories of the Russian Empire at one time hosted the largest populations of Jews in the diaspora. Within these territories the Jewish community flourished and developed many of modern Judaism's most distinctive theological and cultural traditions, while also facing periods of...

 tailor and his wife, Anna Finkelin in New York City, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

. At the age of eight he moved with his family to Chicago, Illinois
Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

, where he spent most of his life. He had two brothers, Ben (1907–1965) and Meyer (1905–1958).

From 1926 to 1936, his parents ran a rooming house that also served as a meeting place for people from all walks of life. Terkel credited his understanding of humanity and social interaction to the tenants and visitors who gathered in the lobby there, and the people who congregated in nearby Bughouse Square. By 1939, he had grown to adulthood, marrying Ida Goldberg (1912–1999) that year, and the couple produced one son, Dan. Although he received his law degree from the University of Chicago Law School
University of Chicago Law School
The University of Chicago Law School was founded in 1902 as the graduate school of law at the University of Chicago and is among the most prestigious and selective law schools in the world. The U.S. News & World Report currently ranks it fifth among U.S...

 in 1934, he decided instead of practicing law, he wanted to be a concierge
Concierge
A concierge is an employee who either works in shifts within, or lives on the premises of an apartment building or a hotel and serves guests with duties similar to those of a butler. The position can also be maintained by a security officer over the 'graveyard' shift. A similar position, known as...

 at a hotel, and he soon joined a theater group.

Career


Terkel joined the Works Progress Administration
Works Progress Administration
The Works Progress Administration was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, and operated large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects...

's Federal Writers' Project
Federal Writers' Project
The Federal Writers' Project was a United States federal government project to fund written work and support writers during the Great Depression. It was part of the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal program...

, working in radio
Radio
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

, doing work that varied from voicing soap opera
Soap opera
A soap opera, sometimes called "soap" for short, is an ongoing, episodic work of dramatic fiction presented in serial format on radio or as television programming. The name soap opera stems from the original dramatic serials broadcast on radio that had soap manufacturers, such as Procter & Gamble,...

 productions and announcing news
Broadcast journalism
Broadcast journalism is the field of news and journals which are "broadcast", that is, published by electrical methods, instead of the older methods, such as printed newspapers and posters. Broadcast methods include radio , television , and, especially recently, the Internet generally...

 and sport
Sportscaster
In sports broadcasting, a commentator gives a running commentary of a game or event in real time, usually during a live broadcast. The comments are normally a voiceover, with the sounds of the action and spectators also heard in the background. In the case of television commentary, the commentator...

s, to presenting shows of recorded music
Music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

 and writing radio scripts and advertisements. His well-known radio program, titled The Studs Terkel Program, aired on 98.7 WFMT
WFMT
WFMT is an FM radio station in Chicago, Illinois, featuring a format of fine arts, classical music programming, and shows exploring such genres as folk and jazz). The station is managed by Window To The World Communications, Inc., owner of WTTW, one of Chicago's two Public Broadcasting Service ...

 Chicago between 1952 and 1997. The one-hour program was broadcast each weekday during those forty-five years. On this program, he interviewed guests as diverse as Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter, musician, poet, film director and painter. He has been a major and profoundly influential figure in popular music and culture for five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s when he was an informal chronicler and a seemingly...

, Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim...

, Jean Shepherd
Jean Shepherd
Jean Parker Shepherd was an American raconteur, radio and TV personality, writer and actor who was often referred to by the nickname Shep....

, and Alexander Frey
Alexander Frey
Alexander Frey is an American symphony orchestra conductor. He is also known as a virtuoso organist and pianist. Frey is in great demand as one of the world's most versatile conductors, and has enjoyed great success in the concert hall and opera house, and in the music of Broadway and Hollywood.In...

. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Terkel was also the central character of Studs' Place, an unscripted television drama about the owner of a greasy-spoon
Greasy spoon
Greasy spoon is a colloquial or slang term originating in the United States to mean a small, especially cheap, archetypal working class restaurant or diner. The term is now used in many English speaking countries to mean the same thing...

 diner in Chicago through which many famous people and interesting characters passed. This show, along with Marlin Perkins
Marlin Perkins
Richard Marlin Perkins was a zoologist best known as a host of the television program Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom from 1963 to 1985.-Biography:...

's Zoo Parade, Garroway at Large
Garroway at Large
Garroway at Large was an experimental musical variety show program with the host Dave Garroway in the Golden Age of Television. It was telecast at 10pm on Saturday on NBC from April 1949 to 1954. Garroway at Large aired with a full symphony orchestra conducted by Alfredo Antonini...

and the children's show Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, are widely considered canonical examples of the Chicago School of Television.

Terkel published his first book, Giants of Jazz, in 1956. He followed it with a number of other books, most focusing on the history of the United States
History of the United States
The history of the United States traditionally starts with the Declaration of Independence in the year 1776, although its territory was inhabited by Native Americans since prehistoric times and then by European colonists who followed the voyages of Christopher Columbus starting in 1492. The...

 people, relying substantially on oral history
Oral history
Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews...

. He also served as a distinguished scholar-in-residence at the Chicago History Museum. He appeared in the film Eight Men Out
Eight Men Out
Eight Men Out is an American dramatic sports film, released in 1988 and based on Eliot Asinof 1963 book 8 Men Out. It was written and directed by John Sayles....

, based on the Black Sox Scandal
Black Sox Scandal
The Black Sox Scandal took place around and during the play of the American baseball 1919 World Series. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox were banned for life from baseball for intentionally losing games, which allowed the Cincinnati Reds to win the World Series...

, in which he played newspaper reporter Hugh Fullerton
Hugh Fullerton
thumb|Hugh Fullerton III was an influential American sportswriter of the first half of the 20th century. He was one of the founders of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He is best remembered for his role in uncovering the 1919 "Black Sox" Scandal...

, who tries to uncover the White Sox players' plans to throw the 1919 World Series
1919 World Series
The 1919 World Series matched the American League champion Chicago White Sox against the National League champion Cincinnati Reds. Although most World Series have been of the best-of-seven format, the 1919 World Series was a best-of-nine series...

.

Terkel received his nickname
Nickname
A nickname is "a usually familiar or humorous but sometimes pointed or cruel name given to a person or place, as a supposedly appropriate replacement for or addition to the proper name.", or a name similar in origin and pronunciation from the original name....

 while he was acting in a play with another person named Louis. To keep the two straight, the director of the production gave Terkel the nickname Studs after the fictional character about whom Terkel was reading at the time—Studs Lonigan
Studs Lonigan
Studs Lonigan is the title of a novel trilogy by American author James T. Farrell: Young Lonigan, The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan, and Judgment Day. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked the Studs Lonigan trilogy at 29th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.The...

, of James T. Farrell's
James T. Farrell
James Thomas Farrell was an American novelist. One of his most famous works was the Studs Lonigan trilogy, which was made into a film in 1960 and into a television miniseries in 1979...

 trilogy.

Terkel was acclaimed for his efforts to preserve American oral history
Oral history
Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews...

. His 1985 book "The Good War": An Oral History of World War Two
The Good War
"The Good War": An Oral History of World War Two is a telling of the oral history of World War II written by Studs Terkel. The work won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction...

, which detailed ordinary peoples' accounts of the country's involvement in World War II, won the Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...

. For Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression
Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression
"Hard Times": An Oral History of the Great Depression is a telling of the oral history of the Great Depression written by Studs Terkel. It is a firsthand account of people of varying socio-economic status who lived in the United States during the Great Depression.The first edition of the book was...

, Terkel assembled recollections of the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 that spanned the socioeconomic spectrum, from Okie
Okie
Okie is a term dating from as early as 1907, originally denoting a resident or native of Oklahoma. It is derived from the name of the state, similar to Texan or Tex for someone from Texas, or Arkie or Arkansawyer for a native of Arkansas....

s, through prison inmates, to the wealthy. His 1974 book, Working, in which (as reflected by its subtitle) People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, also was highly acclaimed. Working was made into a short-lived Broadway show in 1978 and was telecast on PBS in 1982. In 1997, Terkel was elected a member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters
The American Academy of Arts and Letters
The American Academy of Arts and Letters is a 250-member honor society; its goal is to "foster, assist, and sustain excellence" in American literature, music, and art. Located in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan in New York, it shares Audubon Terrace, its Beaux Arts campus on...

. Two years later, he received the George Polk Career Award
George Polk Awards
The George Polk Awards in Journalism are a series of American journalism awards presented annually by Long Island University in New York in the United States.-History:...

 in 1999.

Later life


In 2004, Terkel received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy
Elijah P. Lovejoy
Elijah Parish Lovejoy was an American Presbyterian minister, journalist, newspaper editor and abolitionist. He was murdered by an opposition mob in Alton, Illinois during their attack on his warehouse to destroy his press and abolitionist materials.Lovejoy's father was a Congregational minister...

 Award as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colby College
Colby College
Colby College is a private liberal arts college located on Mayflower Hill in Waterville, Maine. Founded in 1813, it is the 12th-oldest independent liberal arts college in the United States...

. In August 2005, Terkel underwent successful open-heart surgery. At the age of ninety-three, he was one of the oldest people to undergo this form of surgery and doctors reported his recovery to be remarkable for someone of that advanced age. Terkel smoked two cigars a day until 2004.

On May 22, 2006, Terkel, along with other plaintiffs, filed a suit in federal district court against AT&T
AT&T
AT&T Inc. is an American multinational telecommunications corporation headquartered in Whitacre Tower, Dallas, Texas, United States. It is the largest provider of mobile telephony and fixed telephony in the United States, and is also a provider of broadband and subscription television services...

, to stop the telecommunications carrier from giving customer telephone records to the National Security Agency
National Security Agency
The National Security Agency/Central Security Service is a cryptologic intelligence agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the collection and analysis of foreign communications and foreign signals intelligence, as well as protecting U.S...

 without a court order.
The lawsuit was dismissed by Judge Matthew F. Kennelly
Matthew F. Kennelly
Matthew F. Kennelly is a federal district court judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. He gained widespread attention when he presiding over the case of ACLU v...

 on July 26, 2006. Judge Kennelly cited a "state secrets privilege
State Secrets Privilege
The state secrets privilege is an evidentiary rule created by United States legal precedent. Application of the privilege results in exclusion of evidence from a legal case based solely on affidavits submitted by the government stating that court proceedings might disclose sensitive information...

" designed to protect national security from being harmed by lawsuits.

In 2006, Terkel received the Dayton Literary Peace Prize
Dayton Literary Peace Prize
The Dayton Literary Peace Prize, which was first awarded in 2006, "is the only annual U.S. literary award recognizing the power of the written word to promote peace." Awards are given for adult fiction and non-fiction books published at some point within the immediate past year that have led...

's first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award.

Terkel completed a new personal memoir entitled, Touch and Go, published in the fall of 2007.

Terkel was a self-described agnostic
Agnosticism
Agnosticism is the view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable....

, which he jokingly defined as "a cowardly atheist" during a 2004 interview with Krista Tippett on American Public Media
American Public Media
American Public Media is the second largest producer of public radio programs in the United States of America after NPR. Its non-profit parent, American Public Media Group, also owns and operates radio stations in Minnesota, California, and Florida. Its station brands are Minnesota Public Radio,...

's Speaking of Faith
Speaking of Faith
On Being is a weekly public radio program about "religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas", produced by American Public Media...

. Movie critic Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert
Roger Joseph Ebert is an American film critic and screenwriter. He is the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.Ebert is known for his film review column and for the television programs Sneak Previews, At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and Siskel and Ebert and The...

 claimed that Terkel was an atheist.

One of his last interviews was for the documentary Soul of a People on Smithsonian Channel. He spoke about his participation in the Works Progress Administration
Works Progress Administration
The Works Progress Administration was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, and operated large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects...

.

At his last public appearance, in 2007, Terkel said he was "still in touch—but ready to go". He gave one of his last interviews on the BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 Hardtalk
HARDtalk
Hardtalk is a flagship BBC television programme, consisting of in-depth half-hour one-on-one interviews.It is broadcast four days a week on BBC World News and the BBC News channel. Launched in 1997, much of its worldwide fame is due to its global reach via BBC World...

program on February 4, 2008. He spoke of the imminent election of Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

 as President of the United States, and offered him some advice, in October, 2008.

Terkel died in his Chicago home on Friday, October 31, 2008 at the age of ninety-six. He had been suffering ever since a fall in his home earlier that month.

In 1998, Terkel and WFMT, the radio station which broadcast Terkel's long-running program, had donated approximately 7,000 tape recordings of Terkel's interviews and broadcasts to the Chicago History Museum. In 2010, the Museum and the Library of Congress announced a multi-year joint collaboration to digitally preserve and make available at both institutions these recordings, which the Library of Congress called, "a remarkably rich history of the ideas and perspectives of both common and influential people living in the second half of the 20th century." "For Studs, there was not a voice that should not be heard, a story that could not be told," said Gary T. Johnson, Museum president. "He believed that everyone had the right to be heard and had something important to say. He was there to listen, to chronicle, and to make sure their stories are remembered.".

Selected works

  • Giants of Jazz (1957). ISBN 1565847695
  • Division Street: America (1967) ISBN 0394422678
  • Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression
    Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression
    "Hard Times": An Oral History of the Great Depression is a telling of the oral history of the Great Depression written by Studs Terkel. It is a firsthand account of people of varying socio-economic status who lived in the United States during the Great Depression.The first edition of the book was...

    (1970) ISBN 0394427742
  • Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974). ISBN 0394478845
  • Talking to Myself: A Memoir of My Times (1977) ISBN 0394411021
  • American Dreams: Lost and Found (1983)
  • The Good War
    The Good War
    "The Good War": An Oral History of World War Two is a telling of the oral history of World War II written by Studs Terkel. The work won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction...

    (1984) ISBN 0394531035
  • Chicago (1986) ISBN 5551545687
  • The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream (1988)
  • Race: What Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession (1992). ISBN 978-1565840003
  • Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who’ve Lived It (1995) ISBN 1565842847
  • My American Century (1997) ISBN 1595581774
  • The Spectator: Talk About Movies and Plays With Those Who Make Them (1999) ISBN 1565846338
  • Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Reflections on Death, Rebirth and Hunger for a Faith (2001) ISBN 0641759371
  • Hope Dies Last: Keeping the Faith in Difficult Times (2003) ISBN 1565848373
  • And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey (2005) ISBN 1595580034
  • Touch and Go (2007) ISBN 1595580433
  • P.S. Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening (2008) ISBN 1595584234

External links