Sunday, November 2, 2008

Studs Terkel, 1912-2008

On Friday, America lost one of its greatest treasures, as Louis "Studs" Terkel died at his Chicago home. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for The Good War, a collection of World War Two memories. His most intriguing book was Working: What People Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974), a volume that reflected his working class background and his respect for people who get up and go to work everyday. Other notable works include Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970), Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About The American Obsession (1992), and the forthcoming PS: Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening, due out next month. "If I did one thing I'm proud of," Terkel said last year, "it's to make people feel that together, they count." He did that well.

Best known as a writer, oral hiistorian, and as host of a Chicago radio program, Studs Terkel had a brief TV career beginning in 1949 when he was the star of a national TV show called Studs' Place, set in a fictional bar much like the later Cheers. That came to a halt in 1952 when Terkel's liberal views and support for labor unions got him blacklisted by McCarthyites. Yet, he prevailed and overcame the Red-baiting and union-baiting of those dark times and lived on to be one of our nation's greatest storytellers.

The Washington Post obituary is titled, "An Ear for the Lyrical Voice of Everyman." That is high tribute for anyone. Let us hope it is never a lost art among the politicians, journalists, and bloggers in the America shaped by Carl Sandburg and Studs Terkel nor in the Fayetteville informed by Miller Williams and Richard Drake.

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