Studs Terkel, R.I.P.
Posted by: Keir Graff
Studs Terkel is dead. People keep saying it’s a tremendous loss–and it is, of course–but he leaves behind a tremendous body of work. Never one to rest on his laurels (and he certainly would have had a wry comment about that), the Working guy just kept . . . working. A great listener, a hell of a talker, even with his health in decline, he couldn’t resist adding a P.S. (2008).
The tributes, reactions, and reevaluations have been pouring out, especially here in Chicago. There are so many, you could create a special-edition newspaper that would consist only of stories about Studs–and it would be a respectable Sunday-sized paper, too. I won’t bother to round them up. They’re easy to find, and there’s certainly not much I can add to a piece like Rick Kogan’s front-page story, “Chicago’s storyteller” (Chicago Tribune).
But I will say that I think the best way to remember him is to take a moment and listen to that wonderful voice again. At studsterkel.org, they have a rich variety of resources, including some vintage audio from his WFMT radio show. I just listened to a 1971 conversation between Terkel and Mike Royko (on the day that Royko’s Boss was released!), another giant who worried about working people and who helped define our city to the world at large. Check it out: part 1, part 2, and part 3.
On her Open Books Radio blog, Booklist‘s Donna Seaman shares an interview in which she asked Studs to talk about other writers. Stopping by my office this morning, Donna made the excellent point that there are a number of different groups who thought of Studs as theirs: writers, musicians, political activists. His was a restless and wide-ranging mind.
Studs lived in my neighborhood–I guess I should say that I lived in his neighborhood–and I remember reading somewhere that, although he had the choice of the 146 bus, an express, and the 151, a local, he liked to ride downtown on the 151 because it was full of regular people, many of them poor, making stops in the neighborhood. The 146 bus, he said, was full of yuppies.
I don’t have the patience for the 151 bus myself, but his ability to forgo convenience for experience was one of the things that made him great. We would all do well to follow his example, even if only once in a while.