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Studs Terkel, historian of the American working class, passes away at age 96

Posted by invizweb on November 1, 2008

Ben Quinn for the Guardian:

Studs Terkel, the Pulitzer prize-winning author, broadcaster and master chronicler of American life in the 20th century, died last night. He was 96.

Celebrated for his streetwise portrayals of the American working class, Terkel was best known for letting the common people he called “the uncelebrated” tell their stories in books like Working and The Good War.

To generations of radio listeners he was also the voice of The Studs Terkel Show, which ran for 43 years and was widely syndicated across the US.

The cause of death was not announced, but in recent years Terkel had been beset by various ailments and his health took a turn for the worse two weeks ago when he suffered a fall in his home. At his bedside was a copy of his latest book, PS: Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening, scheduled for release this month.

Born Louis Terkel, he was a native New Yorker who moved to Chicago as a child and came to personify his adopted town.

He won the Pulitzer prize in 1985 for his nonfiction work The Good War: an Oral History of World War II, one of a dozen best-selling books he wrote.

His first work was a little known book, Giants of Jazz, published in 1957, but he earned his fame with Division Street: America, compiled from interviews with Chicagoans from all walks of life. Using their own words, it told the stories, of businessmen, prostitutes and ordinary working people.

It was a theme that Terkel would explore again and again, in Hard Times, his 1970 Depression era memoir; in Working, his saga of ordinary lives in 1974; and in American Dreams: Lost and Found in 1980.

In 1986 he published Chicago, regarded by many as a distillation of much of what he had come to feel for a city that he was closely identified with. Capturing the voices of the city, he quoted ordinary men and women from social activists to police sergeants. His own voice was also present in the book’s anecdotes and reminiscences about his family and growing up. Last year he marked his 95th birthday with the publication of The Studs Terkel Reader, My American Century.

“If I did one thing I’m proud of, it’s to make people feel that together, they count,” he said last year.

In an interview with the Guardian this January, Terkel demonstrated his appetite for provocation was undiminished, wondering aloud of Tony Blair: “Why was he such a house-boy for Bush?”

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