Studs Terkel died the other day and so we bid farewell to the last living link to Chicago’s hard-boiled, street-level, gut-check, grimy sweaty literary tradition, because even though Studs was a writer, he was mostly a listener and long after Upton Sinclair and Theodore Dreiser and Robert Herrick and Sherwood Anderson and Ben Hecht started pushing literature in the direction of street talk, Studs was our living link to them, as he was to the streetcorner writers he actually knew, people like Nelson Algren and Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks and he was the last of that Depression generation and he was an original and a radical. I first saw him at a late 70’s antiwar demonstration in Hyde Park and he was always at those. I met him at the Historical Society a decade ago and he immediately remembered Barry Byrne (whose unpublished biography I have written) and quoted his interview as if it were yesterday even though over thirty years had passed and I saw him three years ago when he was our keynote for the Preserve and Play Conference here and he talked about “checking out” soon but he was here too long and did too much good so there is no goodbye after all, just ninety years of keeping his ear to the streets and his hand on the megaphone and he made as much history as he recorded but both are prodigious, deep decades of accomplishment and he is a permanent part of Chicago’s character, which means he had an impact because that is how history is read in the present – in the persistent character of place and the character that persistent characters like Studs Terkel put in that place, which was always Stud’s Place despite the red-baiting haters. How Studs would have liked to see this day, November 4, and how much he did to make sure it could happen.
Tags: Studs Terkel