British oral interviewer Parker (The Violence of Our Lives, 1995. etc.) pays tribute to the master of his craft: 84-year-old...


STUDS TERKEL: A Life in Words

British oral interviewer Parker (The Violence of Our Lives, 1995. etc.) pays tribute to the master of his craft: 84-year-old Louis ""Studs"" Terkel. Terkel, the radio legend of Chicago's WFMT and the author of more than a half dozen oral histories (including the Pulitzer Prize--winning ""The Good War,"" and, most recently, Coming of Age), cooperates with a biographer for the first time. Yet it might be more correct to call this work a portrait, because ""biography"" implies a narrative form that this artlessly arranged collection of interviews seldom possesses. Parker has rounded up 25 people who discuss Terkel, including American and English friends (such as John Kenneth Galbraith and longtime editor Andr‚ Schiffrin), WFMT associates, and his wife and son. Anecdotes offer a rough portrait of Terkel's life: New York City street kid, stage and TV actor, blacklist victim, jazz lover, devoted friend, social activist, author, ""radio raconteur"" (Terkel's words)--really, almost a force of nature. Indeed, Terkel's associates manifest such affection that their reminiscences blur into an unbroken series of hosannas to his virtue. Repeatedly, these people praise his unfeigned interest in his subjects, his great gift for putting radio guests at ease, and his unique ability to edit interviews into the seamless whole of a book. It is left to Terkel to be the most revealing about his life: the origin of his nickname, his rueful relationship with his mother and son (who lives under an assumed name to escape the long shadow of his father), his inability to say ""I love you,"" and his insecurity about his worth as a writer. We also receive a demonstration of his ability to listen and respond to guests through excerpts from interviews with Mahalia Jackson, Bertrand Russell, Zero Mostel, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and others. Unfortunately, unlike his subject, Parker has not learned how to induce on-guard interviewees to open up in surprising, revealing, fresh ways.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996


Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996

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