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Americans Who Tell the Truth

Louis ‘Studs’ Terkel

Entertainment and Sport Personalities

Studs Terkel

Social Historian, Lawyer, Actor, Author, Activist (1912-2009)

Perhaps it is this specter that most haunts working men and women: the planned obsolescence of people that is of a piece with the planned obsolescence of the things they make. Or sell. It is perhaps this fear of no longer being needed in a world of needless things that most clearly spells out the unnaturalness, the surreality of much that is called work today.


Additional Quotes by Studs Terkel

All the other books ask, 'What's it like?' What was World War II like for the young kid at Normandy, or what is work like for a woman having a job for the first time in her life? What's it like to be black or white?

But once you become active in something, something happens to you. You get excited and suddenly you realize you count.

Chicago is not the most corrupt American city. It's the most theatrically corrupt.

I always love to quote Albert Einstein because nobody dares contradict him.

I hope for peace and sanity - it's the same thing.

I hope that memory is valued - that we do not lose memory.

I think it's realistic to have hope. One can be a perverse idealist and say the easiest thing: 'I despair. The world's no good.' That's a perverse idealist. It's practical to hope, because the hope is for us to survive as a human species. That's very realistic.

I thought, if ever there were a time to write a book about hope, it's now.

I want a language that speaks the truth.

I want people to talk to one another no matter what their difference of opinion might be.

I want to praise activists through the years. I praise those of the past as well, to have them honored.

I want, of course, peace, grace, and beauty. How do you do that? You work for it.

I'm not up on the Internet, but I hear that is a democratic possibility. People can connect with each other. I think people are ready for something, but there is no leadership to offer it to them. People are ready to say, 'Yes, we are part of a world.'

I've always felt, in all my books, that there's a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence - providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.

If solace is any sort of succor to someone, that is sufficient. I believe in the faith of people, whatever faith they may have.

Nonetheless, do I have respect for people who believe in the hereafter? Of course I do. I might add, perhaps even a touch of envy too, because of the solace.

People are ready to say, 'Yes, we are ready for single-payer health insurance.' We are the only industrialized country in the world that does not have national health insurance. We are the richest in wealth and the poorest in health of all the industrial nations.

Religion obviously played a role in this book and the previous book, too.

That's what we're missing. We're missing argument. We're missing debate. We're missing colloquy. We're missing all sorts of things. Instead, we're accepting.

That's why I wrote this book: to show how these people can imbue us with hope. I read somewhere that when a person takes part in community action, his health improves. Something happens to him or to her biologically. It's like a tonic.

We are the most powerful nation in the world, but we're not the only nation in the world. We are not the only people in the world. We are an important people, the wealthiest, the most powerful and, to a great extent, generous. But we are part of the world.

We use the word 'hope' perhaps more often than any other word in the vocabulary: 'I hope it's a nice day.' 'Hopefully, you're doing well.' 'So how are things going along? Pretty good. Going to be good tomorrow? Hope so.'

When you become part of something, in some way you count. It could be a march; it could be a rally, even a brief one. You're part of something, and you suddenly realize you count. To count is very important.

Why are we born? We're born eventually to die, of course. But what happens between the time we're born and we die? We're born to live. One is a realist if one hopes.

With optimism, you look upon the sunny side of things. People say, 'Studs, you're an optimist.' I never said I was an optimist. I have hope because what's the alternative to hope? Despair? If you have despair, you might as well put your head in the oven.

You happen to be talking to an agnostic. You know what an agnostic is? A cowardly atheist.



Despite his almost complete identification with the Windy City, Louis Terkel—universally called Studs—actually was born in New York City. His family moved west not long before he became a teenager, and settled on Chicago's West Side.

Since graduating from law school at the University of Chicago in 1934, Terkel has worked as a radio producer, jazz columnist, sportscaster, playwright, and civil service employee. He has appeared on stage, in radio soap operas, on television shows (including Ken Burns's documentaries Baseball, Jazz, and The Civil War) and in a handful of movies (most notably 1988's Eight Men Out).

He is famous as host of a series of radio and television shows in Chicago starting in 1944. His television career was disrupted when he was blacklisted in 1953 for speaking out in favor of price and rent controls, against the poll tax and Jim Crow laws, and for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. He continued on the radio, however, with a daily music and interview show, The Studs Terkel Program, which ran from 1952 until 1997.

Studs's nickname comes from the character Studs Lonigan created by James T. Farrell, one of his favorite writers. Terkel himself became an author in 1957 with Giants of Jazz, and since 1967 he has produced a dozen more books, mostly from edited interviews. These include Division Street: America, Hard Times, Working, Talking to Myself, Race, and The Good War, about World War II, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985.

Studs likes to call himself “a guerrilla journalist with a tape recorder.” More poetically, another writer calls him “the Walt Whitman of the radio waves.” He has been inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and serves as distinguished scholar-in-residence at the Chicago Historical Society.



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