Chicago, Jon Trott, Uncategorized, Uptown Chicago History — October 31, 2008 at 9:36 pm

Uptown Resident, Author Studs Terkel Dies at 96

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“I know my epitaph: ‘Curiosity did not kill this cat.’”
– Studs Terkel

Chicago, and the world, lost an irreplaceable voice today. Studs Terkel is dead at 96. Our Uptown neighbor and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author (for 1985′s The Good War), Studs Terkel was and will always be best known as a hearer of others’ stories who magically transformed them into literary diamonds.

This writer is best acquainted with Terkel’s Working, which the magazine I wrote for and helped edit used as the basis for a lengthy article treatment on the same topic. But locally Terkel was known for his habit of riding the CTA bus rather than driving (he apparently never did get a driver’s license). He told others that public transportation gave him many opportunities to meet interesting people and learn their stories.

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote earlier this year about Studs Terkel’s mysterious gift of conversation:

One reason Terkel gets people to talk so openly with him is that he’s not an academic or a cross-examiner. He comes across as this guy sitting down with you to have a good, long talk. Pick up one of his books, and now you’re sitting next to the guy. You can’t stop reading. Studs has an interviewing technique I admire: He combines astonishment with curiosity. He can’t believe his ears. He repeats with enthusiasm what his subject just said, and the subject invariably continues and expands and wants to make his own story better. So many people have great stories, if only they could find an audience.

Mr. Terkel will be remembered both as a social activist deeply knowledgeable regarding both the early labor movement and those who repressed that movement. But even more fundamentally he will be remembered as someone who resonated deeply with individuals who were, to borrow a book title from Ralph Ellison, the “Invisible Man.” Terkel gave them a voice and in so doing, helped the rest of us — whether in Uptown or not — realize that all humankind are neighbors.

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