Tag Archives: oral histories

Happy Belated Birthday, Studs

I am behind in culling though my emails and just saw this from the Writer’s Almanac. Studs was a favorite of mine and I urge anyone who can read, to read Working or American Dreams Lost and Found or any of Studs Terkel‘s marvelous oral histories.

It’s the 100th birthday of the man who called himself “a guerilla journalist with a tape recorder”: Louis “Studs” Terkel (books by this author). He was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1912, just three weeks after the Titanic sank. His family moved to Chicago when he was 11, where his father opened a boarding house. It was there that young Louis met the kinds of people—workers, drifters, and activists—that would become so influential on his life’s work. “It was those loners — argumentative ones, deceptively quiet ones, the talkers and the walkers — who, always engaged in something outside themselves, unintentionally became my mentors,” he wrote in his 2007 memoir, Touch and Go.

Terkel studied law at the University of Chicago, and he picked up a nickname: Studs, after the hero of James T. Ferrell’s “Studs Lonigan” trilogy. Terkel never practiced law, but he wrote plays for the Federal Writers’ Project, and worked as a radio producer, a disc jockey, and even an actor. He had his own TV show for a while, called Studs’ Place, but was blacklisted after refusing to cooperate with Senator McCarthy’s investigation.

When he was 55, a British publisher approached him about producing a book of interviews with ordinary Americans. That book, Division Street: America (1967), launched a new career for Terkel as an oral historian. He ended up writing several books in that same style—books on race, the elderly, faith, and working. In 1985, he won the Pulitzer Prize for “The Good War”: An Oral History of World War II (1984).

He died in October 2008, at the age of 96. His last book, P.S. Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening, was published the following month. Before his death, he said he wanted his epitaph to read, “Curiosity did not kill this cat.”

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Posted by on May 17, 2012 in American Lit, contemporary


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