Saturday, November 01, 2008

Studs Terkel, R.I.P.

He was a Pulitizer-Prize winning author, and so much more.

He was one of our last living connections to parts of our past it is increasingly important we know about in depth: the Great Depression and FDR, the McCarthyite 50s. Studs Terkel got his start on radio with the Federal Writers Project, and his budding TV career was ended by the Blacklist. But he survived, and is most famous now for his books, which essentially invented what's now known as oral history. He died on Friday at the age of 96.

I remember his agile mind and mellow voice, and his shirts with the small checked pattern. He was a paragon of curiosity, a volcano of compassion; he knew a good story, and he could tell a million of them. He was a persistent force in getting black and white Americans to understand and glory in their common culture as well as common humanity.

He was a Chicago Everyman, and an American intellectual. He was an enthusiast. And therefore, unique and unforgettable. He cared most about the future.

Asked in Mother Jones interview to name one issue that's been neglected the most through the years, he didn't hesitate: "The big one is the gap between the haves and the have-nots--always...The biggest shame is that there is so much abundance around but that so many have so little and so few have so much."

Asked in this interview if he was going to retire, he replied: "I suppose if I have an epitaph it would be: "Curiosity Did Not Kill This Cat." I don't see retiring in the sense that we view it--I don't see how I could. Dying at the microphone or at the typewriter would not be bad."

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