Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Language That Speaks the Truth

Studs Terkel was a man of so many talents. He certainly had range, range in more than the typical sense associated with a long career. His understanding of the human element allowed his success in broadcasting, on the stage, on the page and everywhere else he chose to dabble.

It speaks to the man's success that in every news story about his recent death, author's have struggled to apply a consistent title.

He was a father. A widower. An author. He held a law degree. A radio personality. A brilliant stage actor. He starred on unscripted television. A winner of the esteemed Pulitzer Prize.

And yet, to me, Studs Terkel was always an historian. He was an oral historian before oral history was professionally acceptable, much less an organized field of study. He, like so many young artists, historians, and craftsmen, gained employment with the Works Progress Administration, he with the Federal Writer's Project, during the Depression. For Studs Terkel that opportunity launched his future broadcast radio and television career.

Historians everywhere are indebted to the trailblazing life of Studs Terkel. Americans everywhere are indebted to Studs Terkel who applied his experience of being blacklisted during the dark days of McCarthy to the egregious supplying of phone records to the NSA by AT&T.

Indebted we are. He once commented that he wanted a language that spoke the truth. We all want a language that speaks the truth and for those of us fortunate to have encountered Terkel's work over the years, we've had a taste of that language. As he used to say when signing off from WFMT-Chicago: "Take it easy, but take it."
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Studs Terkel
1912 - 2008

(Please visit Conversations With America, interviews conducted by Studs Terkel collected and made available by the Chicago Historical Society.)

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