Sad news this morning: Pulitzer Prize winning author Studs Terkel has died, at the age of 96.
In my college days, my journalism teacher held him up as an example of a great journalist. I read this book, “Working,” and was blown away. Terkel was a master an interviewing “the common man”, and understood that EVERYONE has a unique perspective and story to tell. All one has to do is ask a few questions, and then, really LISTEN to what people have to say. Sounds like a simple formula, but I was surprised at how few journalists are actually capable of doing it well.
Here, an excerpt from his AP obituary:
The tougher the subject, the harder Terkel took it on. He put out an oral history collection on race relations in 1992 called “Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About The American Obsession,” and, in 1995, “Coming of Age,” recollections of men and women 70 and older.
He cared about what divided us, and what united us: death — in his 2001 “Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith,” and hope, in his 2003 “Hope Dies Last.”
Terkel won a 1985 Pulitzer Prize for “The Good War,” remembrances of World War II; contrasted rich and poor along the same Chicago street in “Division Street: America,” 1966; limned the Depression in “Hard Times,” 1970; and chronicled how people feel about their jobs in “Working,” 1974.
“When the Chinese Wall was built, where did the masons go for lunch? When Caesar conquered Gall, was there not even a cook in the army? And here’s the big one, when the Armada sank, you read that King Philip wept. Were there no other tears?” Terkel said upon receiving an honorary National Book Award medal in 1997. “And that’s what I believe oral history is about. It’s about those who shed those other tears, who on rare occasions of triumph laugh that other laugh.”