Studs Terkel was an American icon who had no use for America’s cult of celebrity. He was a leftist who valued human beings over political dogma. In scores of books and thousands of radio and television broadcasts, Studs paid attention—and respect—to “ordinary” human beings of all classes and colors, as they talked about their lives as workers, dreamers, survivors. Alan Wieder’s Studs Terkel: Politics, Culture, but Mostly Conversation is the first comprehensive book about this man.
Drawing from over one hundred interviews of people who knew and worked with Studs, Alan Wieder creates a multi-dimensional portrait of a run-of-the-mill guy from Chicago who, in public life, became an acclaimed author and raconteur, while managing, in his private life, to remain a mensch. We see Studs, the eminent oral historian, the inveterate and selfless supporter of radical causes, especially civil rights. We see the actor, the writer, the radio host, the jazz lover, whose early work in television earned him a notorious place on the McCarthy blacklist. We also see Studs, the devoted husband to his adored wife, Ida.
Studs Terkel: Politics, Culture, but Mostly Conversation allows us to realize the importance of reaching through our own daily realities—increasingly clogged with disembodied, impersonal interaction—to find value in actual face-time with real humans. Wieder’s book also shows us why such contact might be crucial to those of us in movements rising up against injustice. The book is simply the best introduction available to this remarkable man. Reading it will lead people to Terkel’s enormous body of work, with benefits they will cherish throughout their lives.
Alan Wieder ably narrates engrossing stories of fascinating people who populated Studs Terkel’s many books and broadcasts. Studs reveled in listening to people who worked to scrap cruel and vengeful policies and who aimed to build a better world. By chronicling and celebrating those whom Studs liked to call “scrappers,” Wieder compels us to see that the beat does, in fact, go on, and that “hope,” as Studs once titled one of his books, “dies last.”
Wieder’s book weaves a deep, nuanced, and rich chronicle of the life of one of the most brilliant chroniclers. This engrossing biography highlights both the extraordinary and the ordinary aspects of Terkel’s journey, drawing from a sweeping array of sources and voices, taking to heart the advice of its namesake: “Listen, listen, listen.”
Red-checked shirts, red socks, red (but also white and blue) politics, great listener who converted his interviewees into world-class talkers. Dissenter, idealist, visionary, prophet, petition-signer, proud blacklistee—Alan Wieder’s Studs Terkel: Politics, Culture, but Mostly Conversation, brings it and him all back, and reminds us that this so-called oral historian was much more than that: one of a kind, an inspiring, brave, and talented original!
Studs Terkel was an American original: Courageous, iconoclastic, funny and brilliant. Alan Wieder captures his essence, and in doing so reminds us of Studs’s extraordinary effervescence, his endless quest for the truth, his attainment of a place in the pantheon of America’s greatest patriots.
Praise for Alan Wieder’s latest MRP book, Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid:
A truly remarkable work. Alan Wieder shows himself as a writer equal to their life story, their inspiring bravery in action and self-analysis.