Studs Terkel and Barack Obama

The last time I saw Studs Terkel, he was mad. We were speakers at an event at the Harold Washington … Continued

The last time I saw Studs Terkel, he was mad. We were speakers at an event at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, and the radio station that had sponsored the program hadn’t properly advertised it. Studs thought it was a conspiracy. “They weren’t sure I would live this long,” he told me, “that’s why they didn’t use my name in the promotion. People are always waiting for me to die.”

That was true. The Chicago Tribune prepared an obituary for him in the 1980s. For several decades, people would say, “If Studs can make it,” instead of “When Studs gets here.”

Studs outlived most of those people, and outworked just about everybody.

My friend Rick Kogan, one of a legion of Chicago writers inspired by Studs, told me that he went by his place recently and the old man gave him parts of a new book he was writing and said in that raspy voice, “Tell me what you think of this.”

Another book. Holy Cow.

I thought of two lines in literature when I heard of Studs’ passing on Friday. The first was George Bernard Shaw’s line: “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and that as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.”

No one gave more of himself to the community than Studs.

The second is the famous John Donne poem, Death be not Proud, especially the lines, “For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow, Die not, poore death.”

Studs’s spirit is going to fire the soul of this nation for a long time to come.

There are folks in Chicago saying that it is a tragedy that Studs passed before Election Day and Barack Obama’s victory party. I’m not so sure. First of all, this is Chicago, and death can’t prevent an inspired citizen from voting.

Second, I think God wanted Studs riding shotgun at the victory party in heaven. Together, they are going to be watching Barack take the stage in Grant Park on Tuesday night. Studs will say, “Take it easy,” as Barack approaches the podium.

And God will finish, “But take it.”

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  • Arminius

    Eboo,Thank you for a wonderful tribute to a great writer, a great man, a great American. Anyone who read something that Studs wrote was profoundly educated.

  • Farnaz2

    Studs Terkel was an amazing American. I’ve always wondered at the lack of antisemitism that came his way, until I learned that it wasn’t entirely lacking. Still it was uncharacteristically under control for the US.He was a decent man, a socially committed man. He will be greatly missed.

  • akhajawall

    Dear undecided Voter,In the final analysis this election has been fought on following emotional presumptions by the both campaigns.As a Independent registered voter I have decided to vote for the Obama-Biden ticket. I am sure they will protect our national security, strengths, stamina and soul as well as rebuild our nation from the bottom up in all areas of need. The OBAMA-BIDEN ticket will restore our global standing with the use of maximum, firm international diplomacy and minimal force if and when necessary.Yours sincerely,COL. A.M. Khajawall [Ret] MD., Forensic psychiatrist, Colonel, US-AR

  • truthhurts

    Very well written Eboo. For some people, we are witnessing a beginning to an new era in the 21st century. Others are extremely bitter than an old era is coming to an end. Some people are content just being part of the era at hand.If you were to ask around, there are some who believe we are finally existing an age of False Enlightenment. Around the world, people have been taught to fear the Illumati. Yet, by name alone Illumanti bring things to light. Now, this concept is not new. History records dark ages followed by ages of revival, renewal or Renaissance. There are sacred chapters of Christian and Muslim writings explaining the same deal. Those fearing the “end of the world” may just be fearing an end of an age and yet it’s oh so tempting to play God, ain’t it.

  • Farnaz2

    “History records dark ages followed by ages of revival, renewal or Renaissance.”History records, and eschatology figures in Judaism, of course, but the latter is more concerned with what we as humans can do to bring dark ages into the light–WE–not the deity.Therefore, I cannot ask if this is going to be a new age, an age of light following darkness, but rather what I can do to usher in luminous days.

  • Herndon2

    Please. Studs Terkel was one of those unrepentant New Dealers convinced that Joseph Stalin was just good old “Uncle Joe” and that the Soviet Union was a model for the world. His fossilized old mind was incapable of understanding that Marxism was a failure.

  • thegreatpotatospamof2003

    I first read Terkel’s “Working” as a 13 year old high school student, in Chicago.His work was instrumental in helping me to see, (while still a kid, really), all people as unique individuals, from the cab driver, to the waitress, each life individual, their suffering, their story, their lifetime a book, one no more or less important than the next, all equal, whether a President, a Prime Minister, or a Press Operator. The gift of insight and knowledge, from a writer, (and a social scientist), we are better for his work.

  • wwIIbaby

    The loss of Studs Terkel is on my mind. . .we (my husband and I) met him after he was awarded the annual Eugene V. Debs medal and spoke before the assembled thousand or so folks here in Terre Haute, Indiana. He went to a house party because the Indiana State University Student Government president invited him. He brought his wife, Ida, with him. Studs had written about the common man and used the words of these folks to create REAL people in his readers’ minds. His influence and kindness knew no bounds.Ida had worked in the streets of Chicago–some of that work at Hull House and later as one of the original New Deal social workers during the Great Depression and after. She was smart, sassy, and How fortunate we were to meet these people, to study their work and writings, and to catch some of their spirit.Barack Obama followed in his footsteps as a penultimate “community organizer.” How fortunate we are to have him and his wife and his children in our present lives. May we catch some of their spirit(s) as well.Barbara Norman

  • Arminius

    Barbara Norman,I, too, am a WWII baby. I envy you – you got to meet Studs and his wife. What a remarkable person he was! He taught us that, even with our differences as individuals, we are all alike, warts and all, and we are all together in this boat of life. He was not just a great American, but a great citizen of the world. Thanks!