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Getting to Know Studs Through the Media Burn Archive

When I first started working at Media Burn Archive, I didn’t really know much about Studs Terkel, but over time, as I watched and edited various video pieces about him, I began to feel like I really knew him as a person.

For people who are familiar with Studs’ work, the thoughts and opinions he expresses in our videos won’t come as much of a surprise. In fact, many of the stories he tells on tape can also be found within the pages of his books. But if you look beyond just the words, you’ll find something else in these videos that can’t be expressed in any other way. There’s a sense of physicality—the way Studs carried himself and the cadence of his voice. There’s a certain texture and a feel to a person that only video can capture and preserve.

And so one of the videos in our collection that just absolutely amazes me to this day is this conversation between Studs Terkel and Anna Deavere Smith at the Chicago Public Library in 2000. In the course of the conversation, Anna does two performances of Studs, and even though I was never fortunate enough to know Studs when he was alive, I could still see and appreciate what she was doing. She was capturing someone who at some level I knew and recognized.

This video showcases one of her performances, as well as Studs reaction to seeing himself “in the mirror.”

Sean’s “Best of Studs, 1946-2008” assembly will be screening from 10am-4pm on May 10 as part of “Let’s Get Working: Chicago Celebrates Studs Terkel.” The 90-minute program includes a wide range of footage spanning more than six decades: Terkel acting in progressive industrial films, the classic and mostly lost improvised television program “Studs’ Place,” intimate footage with Terkel at home in Uptown, and in timeless conversations with legendary friends like Nelson Algren, Mike Royko, Anna Deveare Smith, and Bill Veeck. Whenever you choose to walk in to the screening room, you’ll be delighted and surprised by what you discover.

by Sean Schönherr, video editor / curator for the Media Burn Independent Video Archive (, which collects and presents more than 300 hours of footage with Studs Terkel.