The groundbreaking book that first made Studs Terkel a household name.
Division Street: America, Studs Terkel's first book of oral history, established his reputation as America's foremost oral historian and as "one of those rare thinkers who is actually willing to go out and talk to the incredible people of this country" (in the words of Tom Wolfe).
Viewing the inhabitants of a single city, Chicago, as a microcosm of the nation at large, Division Street: America chronicles the thoughts and feelings of some seventy people from widely varying backgrounds in terms of class, race, and personal history. From a mother and son who migrated from Appalachia to a Native American boilerman, from a streetwise ex-gang leader to a liberal police officer, from the poorest African Americans to the richest socialites, these unique and often intimate first-person accounts form a multifaceted collage that defies any simple stereotype of America. As Terkel himself put it: "I was on the prowl for a cross-section of urban thought, using no one method or technique .I guess I was seeking some balance in the wildlife of the city as Rachel Carson sought it in nature." Revealing aspects of people's lives that are normally invisible to most of us, Division Street: America is a fascinating survey of a city, and a society, at a pivotal moment of the twentieth century.
Studs Terkel is the author of twelve books of oral history, including, most recently, And They All Sang (The New Press). Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters, he was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. Alex Kotlowitz (foreword) is the award-winning author of There Are No Children Here, among other books. They live in Chicago.
As a young boy in the early 1920s, Louis "Studs" Terkel moved with his family from New York to Chicago, the sprawling, high-energy city he would call home for the rest of his life. His parents managed hotels catering to a varied and colorful clientele. Listening to the conversations of the tenants, young Terkel developed an early interest in people and their stories and a wide-ranging intellectual curiosity that would lead him in many directions.
He received his law degree from the University of Chicago, but never became a practicing attorney, Instead, he worked briefly in Washington, D.C., then returned to Chicago to take a job in FDR's Works Progress Administration acting and writing plays. In 1939, he married Ida Goldberg. The marriage endured for 60 years, until Ida's death in 1999. He joined the Army during WWII but was discharged because of perforated eardrums. Around this time, he embarked on a long, varied broadcasting career as a sportscaster, news commentator, and disc jockey. He ventured into TV in the 1950s with a relaxed, breezy variety show that helped define the Chicago School of Television, but returned to radio in 1952 with the a daily program of music and interviews that continued for the next 45 years. Among a constellation of memorable guests were Buster Keaton, Billie Holiday, James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein, Tennessee Williams, Gloria Steinem, and Bob Dylan.
Although his first book Giants of Jazz was published in 1957, Terkel's writing career began in earnest a decade later with Division Street, a book of transcribed interviews with Chicagoans from every walk of life. Hailed by The New Yorker as "totally absorbing," this groundbreaking study paved the way for bestselling oral histories of the Great Depression (Hard Times), the working class (Working), WWII (the Pulitzer Prize winner The Good War), and growing old in America (Coming of Age). He also penned several memoirs, including Talking to Myself (1977), My American Century (1997), and Touch and Go (2007).
Active and engaged to the end, Terkel died in October of 2008 at the age of 96. In its obituary, the Chicago Tribune reprinted this epigrammatic quote from the iconic writer: "My epitaph? My epitaph will be, 'Curiosity did not kill this cat."
Good To Know
Terkel's famous nickname derives from the fictional character Studs Lonigan from James T. Farrell's 1930s coming-of-age trilogy.
Famously outspoken, Terkel was blacklisted from television during the McCarthy era for his "incendiary" political views. Fortunately, he found a wider audience when he was hired by Chicago's fine arts radio station WFMT, where his program was a daily staple for 45 years.
Instantly recognizable by his attire, Terkel always wore a red-checked shirt, grey trousers, and a blue blazer.
He appeared in Eight Men Out, John Sayles's 1988 film about the Chicago Black Sox Scandal of 1919.