Chicago is getting a lot of play these days. On November 4, to celebrate the election
of Barack Obama, 160,000 people, the largest crowd ever gathered for a domestic political
rally, swarmed into Grant Park.
In history, things don’t always happen neatly in terms of timelines. Eight years into
the twentieth century, a case might be made that Obama’s nomination, at least for
our society, marks the advent of that most significant watershed. That said, there
was one person missing from Grant Park on that momentous occasion.
Studs Terkel died on October 31. He was the quintessential Chicago figure, the man
who raised the personal interview to an art form. He did so by talking to the most
celebrated figures of his time as well as to those who made up the nuts and bolts
of society. His 1974 book Working, in which extraordinary ‘ordinary’ citizens talk about their professions, remains
the most revelatory window into how this nation functions throughout half of its waking
Studs (legal name Louis) was also a quintessential twentieth century figure. His oral
histories Hard Times and The Good War, chronicling respectively the Great Depression and World War II, are invaluable documents
of American experience and perspective. His book Race is also an unfiltered look into that complex and ever-evolving issue.
Studs Terkel was a man of his time. A tireless recorder of humanity, done so with
compassion, wit and insight. So he didn’t make it to Grant Park on election night.
Won’t be recording America’s voices into the twenty-first century. But he did his
work, did it well, and now it’s done; left there to listen to and to read.
So although he was missed in Grant Park that night, in the city that defined him and
that he so thoroughly defined.... Maybe it was perfect. To sign off, Studs would always
say: “Take it easy, but take it.” Thanks, Studs.