Saturday, November 01, 2008

Studs Terkel - loss of a literary giant

Every writer has a short - or maybe not so short - list of masters who've achieved something great. Some have penned bestsellers. Others have won Pulitzers. Whatever their achievement, we follow them because we don't get better by patterning ourselves after mediocrity. Rather, we improve by shooting for the stars.

Studs Terkel was such a star, and he passed away yesterday at the age of 96.

I latched onto him early because he championed an observational style of writing that reached through my journalist's cynicism and taught me that simple perspectives on real people's lives could make for compelling storytelling. With him it was never about putting on an air. He said it like it was, as it needed to be said. Unadorned, straightforward prose. It rocked my world.

He came by that simplicity early on. As he was growing up on Chicago, his parents ran a small rooming house. He'd often sit in the lobby and watch the comings and goings of the folks who stayed there. That exposure helped him develop his voice as a writer and a broadcaster, and he went on to build a remarkably diverse multimedia anthology. It saddens me immensely that this great voice has been silenced.

Funny how this writing thing works, how influence tends to gravitate through the community. I was never privileged to meet Studs Terkel, but I'd like to think - humbly, of course - that a tiny piece of what made him great will somehow find its way into my own work.

Your turn: An artist who has influenced your life. Please discuss.


kenju said...

There are so many! I suppose I gravitate toward painters and authors, and in the first category, Winslow Homer and Monet come to mind. The quality of their work is fairly different, but I admire them both, for different reasons.

Michael K. Althouse said...

Studs was a literary stud! He was often the subject of my studies not only as a student of journalism, but political science as well. He will be missed - the quality of his work is timeless.

Speaking of words, my latest post is an esoteric musing on that very topic.

Anonymous said...

This is terrible news he will be missed by many people.

awareness said...

A true pioneer in how he observed and captured his thoughts and feelings.....

Two authors I have always admired and felt a sense of awe with their ability to tell a story are John Irving and Anne Tyler. Irving manages to tackle huge societal issues through his stories and always layers it with humour and pathos. His characters are complicated and layered and yet accessible. Anne Tyler has the gift of being able to tell a story about what seems on the surface as ordinary-ness....I LOVE how she writes and how she too blends the story of someone who could easily live next door to you and pull in big issues, and simple lives.

Every time I've read one of their novels, I say to myself........My God I wish I could write like that.

sage said...

I remember reading "Working" 30 or so years ago and being hooked by his style. He'll be missed!

As writing styles, I loved the late Mike Royko (also from Chicago) along with Molly Ivins and Maureen Dowd. Another writer that has impressed me with his creative non-fiction is Richard Shelton (mostly known as a poet), especially his book "Going Back to Bisbee"

Thumper said...

I am embarrassed to admit that I have ever read any of Studs Terkel's work...still, his passing saddens me. How could it not?