Studs Terkel, RIP

From Working:

No matter how bewildering the times, no matter how dissembling the official language, those we call ordinary are aware of a sense of personal worth–or more often a lack of it–in the work they do. Tom Patrick, the Brooklyn fireman whose reflections end the book, similarly brings this essay to a close:

The fuckin’ world’s so fucked up, the country’s fucked up. But the firemen, you actually see them produce. You seem the put out a fire. You see them come out with babies in their hands. You see them give mouth-to-mouth when a guy’s dying. You can’t get around that shit. Tht’s real. To me, that’s what I want to be.


I can look back and say, "I helped put out a fire. I helped save somebody." It shows something I did on this earth.

19 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    Oh, I suspect he’s got no complaints about the way he went out. Perhaps he waited until he believed Tuesday would be a done deal, and then let go.

    • bmaz says:

      Maybe; though I think Studs would have held on until Wednesday if he possibly could have. The writers that my mother loved, and taught me to love, are all leaving us. I guess the new ones are there to replace them, but I don’t really see the larger than life ones like are leaving, and have already left. Adios Studs; many happy trails on the next journey.

  2. bell says:

    bmaz – i am presently reading a book by richard ford called ‘the lay of the land’ and it is very good… i think he’s a great writer..

    • bmaz says:

      That name sounded familiar, so I looked him up. Read a book by him a long time ago called The Sportswriter. I remember liking it, but don’t remember much about it other than that. It was a silly statement I made in a way, and even at that, I am not sure it came out right. Probably every generation lionizes the big writers of their time, and the new ones are there and we just don’t realize it. I grew up and matured under some wild, larger than life authors being taught to me, both at school in the different levels, and from my mother who was an American Literature teacher while I was in school. People like Capote, Wolff, Keroac, Kesey, Hemmingway, Faulkner, Ed Abbey, Steinbeck and Fitzgerald. The authors are almost as large as their work. I don’t see the new versions of those types of personalities in literature; but, again, I think each generation gets inured to that which they cut their teeth on and maybe doesn’t see the new ones coming. My daughter will see them I imagine.

  3. prostratedragon says:

    You mean there won’t always be a Studs Terkel?

    That’s what kids growing up in Chicago believed, you know. May his passing at this portentous moment nudge our focus back onto the things and people that really matter for the good life.

  4. Sara says:

    Studs Terkel was the last living writer from the very special WPA Writer’s Project in Illinois. The project in Chicago hired, directly off the relief rolls a mass of talented American Writers, Terkel being one of the youngest. Best known perhaps was Richard Wright, just up from the Delta, recognized as a talent needing nurture, and one of the first to move to a major publisher after Writer’s Project folded, and he was shuffled over to mail sorting at the PO until the checks started arriving for Black Boy and Native Son. Terkel was one of Wright’s special friends, far more knowledgable about the back alleys of Chicago, the ethnic structures, the gang alignments and all. Terkel took Wright to his first meeting of the John Reed club at the U of Chicago, (used to meet right there in Obama’s Hyde Park Neighborhood), from whence they both derived Class Angled lit criticism, and sold their writing to the kind of magazines that made for troubles some 20 years later. Jack Conroy and Nelson Algren were also part of this set — pulled together by the 22 dollars a week for 36 hours work the WPA had on offer from 1935-1939.

    The Chicago Writer’s project was a special baby for Jerre Mangione (father of the Jazz Composer), Jerre allowed this special project to stay clear of the mass production of the American Guide Series (still some of the best travel guides to the US, even though they are 70 years out of date.) Mangione was the deputy director of the project, was more than willing to let talent break some of the rules and for instance swap New York for Chicago — (rules said you had to stay in the state project from whence you came off the state relief rolls), and he early on recognized that the Chicago project was loaded with talent that could project Chicago School Sociology into descriptive writing, narrative, and use the hard edged language of industrial technology. Getting involved with the Reed Clubs was not his idea exactly, but he intentionally looked the other way. The Chicago special group was the only truely integrated writer’s project — WPA played by the seperate but equal rules, but Chicago was allowed to forget that rule too.

    Chicago also hosted a group of German Writers who though not official project members, ran with this crowd. These were the early refugees from Fascism, offered a combination of technical language teaching assignments along with Janitorial duties by the Illinois Institute of Technology. One thing led to another, and eventually a goodly piece of the Bauhaus was in Chicago, writing and designing for each other, sometimes on an odd assignment that paid a few bucks for a publication that wanted something authentically anti-Nazi. Most had enough sense to stay out of the John Reed Clubs — nonetheless they had a lawyer, later Justice Goldberg, who was then doing legal work for refugees, while being paid by the Organizing Committee for what became the United Steelworkers. Arthur Goldberg took care of many of these writers in the dark days of McCarthyism.

    I hope Obama knows some of the details of this history, so rich with both talent and later significant work — all kept sheltered and in food by a little New Deal program that comprehended that keeping skills sharp, and developing new ones was critical to rebuilding the culture once the worst of the economic collapse had passed. Yep, 22 dollars a week for 36 hours of work, and a supervisor who recognized creative talent and nurtured it. Turkel was the last of the Chicago Project.

    • dipper says:

      Thank you, Sara. Your comments are always wonderful to read. I think it was his 90th birthday when Amy Goodman interviewed him for the whole hour. It was spellbinding. He was still sharp as a tack.

    • Minnesotachuck says:

      Sara, you have one hell of a lot of priceless history in you. I hope you’re getting it all out and down somewhere so that it will be available to those who come after us.

    • AZ Matt says:

      Thank you very much for that. I think Studs probably appreciated the intense interest and support he saw coming for Obama. Having lived through so much history and seeing possibly one of the greatest political progressions we will see in our lifetimes, an African American poised to become President of the United States, Studs would have smiled at the thought.

  5. numbertwopencil says:

    …I hope Obama knows some of the details of this history…

    I _think_ Obama and Studs did meet but I don’t remember any details. (I don’t think they have met in the last couple years.)

    Regardless, Studs on Obama:

    …I’d ask Obama, do you plan to follow up on the program of the New Deal of FDR?

    I’d tell him, ‘don’t fool around on a few issues, such as health care. We’ve got bigger work to do! Read FDR’s second inaugural address!’

    The free market has to be regulated. And the New Deal did that and they provided jobs. The government has to. The WPA provided jobs. We have got to get back to that. We need more reg-u-la-tion.

    I was just watching Alan Greenspan, he’s an idiot, and by the way so was Ayn Rand!

    Community organizers like Obama know what’s going on. If they remember. The important thing is memory. You know in this country, we all have Alzheimer’s. Obama has got to remember his days as an organizer. It all comes back to the neighborhood. Well I hope the election is a landslide for Obama…

    More here:…..37278.html

  6. JohnLopresti says:

    Repelled by the stark simplicity of Terkel’s paperbacks during a slightly callow youth, though hard working as soon as youth led to yet further exhuberance, I was charmed by his extensive NPR interview with Robert Zimmerman, the latter having brought an acoustic guitar to play live at some juncture during the interview, and ably. That show aired around the time there was all-day Iran-Contra hearings. Nice ST saw the world from a nonagenarian vantage for several years.

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