The University of Chicago and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts will host Let’s Get Working, a three-day festival honoring the life and work of Studs Terkel, Chicago icon and UChicago alumnus. The festival will introduce Terkel’s work to new and younger audiences while celebrating individuals and groups, local and national, who have been impacted, influenced, and inspired by the man and his legacy.
As a writer, broadcaster, and activist, Louis “Studs” Terkel (1912-2008) often served as the voice of Chicago—but as an oral historian, he recognized the value in listening to all of the city’s voices. His work—including the books Division Street: America (1967), Race (1992), and Pulitzer Prize-winning The Good War (1984)—preserves the past while encouraging audiences to fully inhabit the present and imagine a better future.
Let’s Get Working focuses on issues such as labor, race, faith, and community—all prominent themes throughout Terkel’s broadcasting and literary careers. Featuring oral histories, film screenings, musical performances, art installations, storytelling, and community dialogues, Let’s Get Working will showcase the remarkable depth of knowledge, diversity of subjects, and range of communities Terkel engaged in his work.
This festival is organized by Leigh Fagin, Assistant Director of Collaborative Programming at the Logan Center; Paul Durica, Festival Program Coordinator; and Judy Hoffman, Professor of Practice, Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the UChicago.
- I’m playing this tape recorder for this woman, very poor, very pretty. And these little kids running around want to hear their mama’s voice on this new machine. And so, I’m playing it back, and she’s hearing her voice for the first time in her life, and suddenly she says, "Oh, my god!" And I say, "What is it?" She said, "I never thought I felt that way before." Well, that’s an astonishing moment for her and for me...So that’s the exciting stuff. She discovers that she does have a voice, that she counts. The key word, by the way, in all of these people is they must feel they "count."
- Terkel has built a career on the hunch that pretty much everyone might be worth trying to talk to: the rich and famous, certainly, and burglars and murderers and Ku Klux Klansmen - but most of all the teeming, unexamined mass of American life in between. Armed with a tape recorder, he has interviewed hundreds of people, producing a series of books that tell the story of the American century verbatim, and from the ground up: day-labourers, poor farmers and gangsters for Hard Times, his book about the Depression; everyone from steelworkers to hookers for Working, about the realities of employment in America; and his Pulitzer Prize-winning chronicle of the second world war, The Good War. They are the sound of a nation spontaneously unburdening itself to the first person who had thought to ask.
- What I bring to the interview is respect. The person recognizes that you respect them because you're listening. Because you're listening, they feel good about talking to you. When someone tells me a thing that happened, what do I feel inside? I want to get the story out. It's for the person who reads it to have the feeling . . . In most cases the person I encounter is not a celebrity; rather the ordinary person. "Ordinary" is a word I loathe. It has a patronizing air. I have come across ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.
- This I remember. Some people put this out of their minds and forget it. I don’t. I don’t want to forget it. I don’t want it to take the best of me, but I want to be there because this is what happened. This is the truth, you know. History.
- I arrived in Chicago on an awfully hot July day. Every other place was a saloon, the streets were dirty. The air was heavy. I had left the beautiful Iowa countryside, and I wondered if I hadn’t made a mistake. And no one paid much attention to me. The next morning I said to Miss Jane Addams, ‘I want you to tell me what I am to do.’ And then she said what seemed to m the most wonderful introduction for a young person: ‘I wouldn’t do anything if I were you for a while. Just look around and get acquainted and perhaps you’ll think of something to do that none of the rest of us has ever thought of before.’ I don’t know, it gave me a kind of freedom.