Friday, November 7, 2008

Uncelebrated People

Studs Terkel, who died this past week at the age of 96, was a great and wise man who was a champion of what is called Oral History. In other words, he interviewed people and got them to tell their stories. For 45 years he had a show on radio station WFMT in Chicago. He published a number of books, but none of his books were novels. They were all interviews. I grew up in Chicago and I remember that radio station, and sometimes listening to Studs' show.

Sure, over the years Studs interviewed famous people. But the majority of his books were interviews with those he called the "uncelebrated people." In other words, not celebrities. People who may never have been quoted in print anywhere other than in one of his books, but who lived the experience they spoke about.

Once he selected a theme for his books, such as American Dreams Lost & Found (people talking about their dreams), Hard Times (about the Great Depression), Working (people talking about what they do and how they feel about it), Will the Circle Be Unbroken (about death, rebirth and hunger for faith) Coming of Age (growing up in the 20th century), The Good War (World War 2), Race (how blacks and whites think and feel about it) he interviewed all kinds of people who lived through it and asked them to talk about what it was like. He would paint us a large picture on a broad canvas, made up of these incredible little slices of life that people would share. You would come away with a whole different picture of a great subject told through these voices, which told different stories from a different perspective than, say, biographies of generals, politicians or celebrities.

There are recordings of his work as well as his books. What he did was unique to unique to our experience in this country and the way he did it was timeless. Stories passed down from generation to generation are part of human history and human evolution. All too often we get a small sampling of the big picture from our own family stories, and we have the books by and about famous people, but Studs took the time to get the stories from a lot of people we would never have heard from otherwise, and gave us an opportunity to get a look at the bigger picture by putting all the little pieces together.

If you are looking for something interesting to read or listen to one day, try one of his books or recordings of his interviews. They are amazing pieces of work and an incredible legacy he left us.

Perhaps exploring a bit of this can help you find your voice to tell your own story, if you have been looking around for encouragement or inspiration.

No comments: