Terkel, Studs 1912-2008 (Louis Terkel, Studs Louis Terkel)

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Terkel, Studs 1912-2008 (Louis Terkel, Studs Louis Terkel)


See index for CA sketch: Born May 16, 1912, in New York, NY; died October 31, 2008, in Chicago, IL. Broadcaster, oral historian, actor, and author. Terkel loved to talk, but more importantly, he loved to listen. In interviews and books, Terkel reproduced the voice of America with perfect pitch. His book sales reached into the millions, but he never claimed to be a literary giant. Terkel's goal for his books was to get the words and feelings of others onto paper. In fact, he never intended to become a writer. Terkel's writings emerged from his career in broadcasting. After a short-lived period as a stage actor in the 1930s, Terkel became the host of a Chicago radio show, The Wax Museum, shortly after World War II. He played jazz and other kinds of music, helping to popularize genre performers from Mahalia Jackson to Woody Guthrie, and he conducted occasional interviews. Terkel moved to television in 1950 as the host of the variety series Studs' Place. Then he ran afoul of the communist-hunters spawned by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, reportedly for his leftist leanings and unrepentant attitude, and his career dried up. Terkel returned to the stage until the mid-fifties, when he found work at WFMT-Radio in Chicago. He launched the daily music and interview program that would endure for forty years or more. Terkel turned a gift for conversation into what critics called the art of the interview. He interviewed thousands of Americans from every walk of life, every economic layer, and every corner of society. His range was so vast that the broadcast was said to represent the voice of America herself. In 1980 Terkel received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Award. By then, he had also begun to publish edited versions of his interview tapes in a blockbuster series of books. The first, Division Street: America (1960), offered a look at the issues faced by urban Americans in the 1960s. Another book, "The Good War": An Oral History of World War II (1985) won a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. Terkel's energy never flagged, and his output never dwindled. In 1997, the year of his retirement from radio, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal and National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton. In 2003 he received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle and, in 2007, the Stephen E. Ambrose Oral History Award from Rutgers University—a mere few of the many honors bestowed upon him. Terkel published nearly twenty books, most of them collected interviews, such as The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream (1988) and Hope Dies Last: Keeping the Faith in Difficult Times (2003). He also wrote several memoirs of his times, but not necessarily the details of his own life, which Terkel reportedly considered to represent more a series of accidents than the fulfillment of a grand plan. The most revealing memoir is said to be his last, P.S.: Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening, which was released just weeks after his death.



Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd edition, Macmillan Reference USA (Detroit, MI), 2007.

Parker, Tony, A Life in Words, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.

Terkel, Studs, Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1970.

Terkel, Studs, Talking to Myself: A Memoir of My Times, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1977.

Terkel, Studs, Chicago, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1986.

Terkel, Studs, and Sydney Lewis, Touch and Go: A Memoir, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.

Terkel, Studs, P.S.: Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Living, New Press (New York, NY), 2008.


Chicago Tribune, November 1, 2008, sec. 1, pp. 1, 8-9.

Los Angeles Times, November 1, 2008, pp. A1, A16.

New York Times, November 1, 2008, p. B9.

Times (London, England), November 3, 2008, p. 53.