Cover Story

Studs Terkel's life work has largely been recording ordinary people's innermost thoughts. In fact, he's authored more than a dozen volumes of oral history, including his most recent book, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Reflections on Death, Rebirth and Hunger for a Faith," a collection of more than 60 interviews (New Press, 2001).

Terkel kicked off the convention at the Annual Convention's opening session on Aug. 22, where he shared several poignant and humorous stories from his latest book--one he calls "the most alive book I've ever written."

Later the same day, the 90-years-young Terkel, affectionately known as "Mr. Chicago," took a turn as interviewee at a packed session titled "A conversation with Studs Terkel--the working person's view of fairness." Rev. Ed Townley of Chicago's Unity Church moderated questions from the attendees. Much like Terkel describes his own interviewing style, the questions were varied and followed no particular structure.

Asked to comment on the state of society today, Terkel asked "Should I get political?" Without skipping a beat, he did, expressing his distaste for the state of business and government. "We're an open society, but when we criticize the president, we're told we're helping terrorists. We have an attorney general who was born 300 years too late. If ever there is a time to speak out, it's now," he urged.

In response to the question, "You are a member of a generation who marched [and] protested. What happened to that sense of outrage?"

"The United States has 'a case of Alzheimer's,'" he said. "The sense of outrage is missing because a sense of history is missing." Explaining his point, he added, "The very people who were saved by big government during the Depression say they don't want big government now."

On the death penalty, Terkel said, "We are the only industrialized country that has capital punishment and doesn't have national health insurance. Are we a necrophiliac people?"

Near the end of the discussion, a member of the audience, who grew up in a small Pennsylvania town where Terkel's book "Working" was banned, asked if he'd run into similar problems in other cities. Terkel shared the story of a librarian who once told him a "spy" for Jerry Falwell said to her, "I see you've ordered a pornographic book." She replied, "I did? What is it?"

"Working Studs by Terkel."

--J. DAW