Saturday, November 1, 2008

R.I.P. Studs Terkel

The great Studs Terkel, author, oral historian, radio personality, social activist, and unashamed Liberal, passed away yesterday at 96.

I wish I'd had the opportunity to get to know him, but I know his work, and it has been a great inspiration to me as a writer and social activist. Terkel's books, especially Race, The Good War, Working, and Hard Times, helped shape my understanding of our nation. Though my own working class upbringing exposed me to a variety of characters in many different life situations, my family rarely left New York when I was a kid. Studs Terkel's books gave me glimpses into the worlds of people outside our region, and across generations. Even though I am also a voracious reader of more "objective" academic histories, the personal narratives in Terkel's works made history and biography even more engaging.

He led a long, full life, but his passing is still a great loss. The literary world will never be the same, as there are currently few, if any, writers following in his footsteps as oral historians and chroniclers of working class culture.