Remembering Studs Terkel

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Today, we are celebrating the 108th birthday of writer, orator, and icon Louis “Studs” Terkel (1912-2008). Studs was the author of many books, for which he interviewed hundreds of people, including Martin Luther King Jr., Leonard Bernstein, Gloria Steinem, Toni Morrison, and many others. Whether his subject was internationally recognized or virtually unknown, he listened to everyone’s story equally and wholeheartedly. As the New York Times put it, “Mr. Terkel succeeded as an interviewer in part because he believed most people had something to say worth hearing.”

Born in 1912, Terkel stood witness to some of recent history’s most difficult and most formative moments, from the Great Depression to the Civil Rights Movement. On his early TV show, then his beloved radio show, and eventually in his books, he documented monumental changes through the eyes of the American people. In each medium, he maintained the conversational interview style that he is famous for today. “He drew out of people things they didn't know they had in them,” remembers journalist Rick Kogan. Not only did Studs pioneer his brand of broadcast journalism, he documented an honest history through the collective voices of the public.

Studs lived to be 96 years old, and he reportedly remained sharp and charming until the very end. His ashes were scattered, along with his late wife Ida's, who died in 1999, under a tree in Chicago's Bughouse Square, one of the most famous open-air free speech centers in the country. He was once quoted saying, “‘Curiosity never killed this cat’ — that’s what I’d like as my epitaph.” His curiosity and his willingness to listen shaped his legacy. In leading up to his birthday, we’ve been celebrating his life and legacy with blog posts that are featured below.

Happy birthday, Studs!

*     *     *     *     *

"Food for Thought from Studs Terkel"
A collection of quotes pulled from Terkel's books to serve as some food for thought in our present moment.


An Excerpt from Touch and Go
His final memoir, Touch and Go takes readers through Terkel's childhood to his beginnings as a disc jockey and oral historian. In this excerpt Terkel reflects on the Great Depression and the people who strove to make a difference during a difficult time.


A Studs Terkel Reading List
Terkel was renowned for his skills as an interviewer. He let his interviewees tell their own stories in their own voices. This reading list of Terkel's books highlights that skill and, as a whole, presents an honest and intimate history of the American people.