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The Old Man Would Be Tickled Pink

February 5, 2009 | 6 Comments

Mr. Keillor,
I am a freshman at Kellogg (Idaho) High School, and I am currently researching for an essay on Studs Terkel, the famed oral interviewer, for National History Day. To show that he was influential in history, I am trying to argue that he influenced history both by recording it from many perspectives, but also showing others how to do so.

I was wondering if you would have a position on these arguments for Terkel's influence, and if you believe that Terkel had an influence on you or your style of interviewing/hosting.

Thank you for your time,
Silas D.


I don't think Studs felt that he influenced history. He felt he was paddling upstream, a left-wing Chicago radio guy who loved opera and never drove a car and liked to shoot the breeze with the hoi polloi — he found himself in a freeway world where history was made by a few empty suits and the radio was full of blather and music that said nuttin' and people were so damn busy they didn't have time to sit down and have a drink. But he loved what he loved, stood up for it steadfastly, and enjoyed an old man's privilege of bitching about lousy overpriced hotels and the decline of the American hotdog, abusing the umpire, questioning authority in general, yelling at the TV, and tossing out little lectures on history whenever people sat still. Influential? I don't know. But I like your thesis, Silas, and you should go with it. The old man would be tickled pink. I can't claim that Studs influenced me since I'm not the egalitarian guy he was, nor so political or articulate. I'm a fallen fundamentalist from Minnesota and he was a New York Jew who blossomed in the Windy City and became a local fixture and then a sort of national hero, a lefty grandpa with a thousand opinions who knew whereof he spoke. He was irrepressible and I am very repressible. Repression is my middle name. Ira Glass is the guy who Studs influenced and you could draw a nice line from the old guy to This American Life. And that's all the help you get from me, kid. I'm out of here.


I'd like to see the essay on Garrison's influence on history!
Being a fallen fundamentalist just means you've found grace.

A great topic for National History Day!


Several years ago I saw the adaptation of
Studs Terkel's novel "Working." I've seen
many musicals but this one was memorable
for the insight into real American people.
We need more irrepressible people who are
willing to tell the truth, no matter what.
San Clemente

Silas, I met Studs Terkel over ten years ago, and felt like I was meeting a legend. I believe he influenced people to believe that everyone has a story to tell.

You strike me as a clear, persuasive writer, and I hope you'll keep at it.

The way he acted and thought, I could swear he years on him, showed Wisdom but he was never old he just got tired and had to check out. You can listen to him, The Free Spirit on WFMT Sat. nite 7 PM CST. Or go to

My favorite history professor introduced me to Studs Terkel's work my sophomore year of college. Two years later, I'm student teaching history and social studies and have an (almost) complete collection of his published works. I use them regularly with my high schoolers to show them the human side of history that's all too often erased from textbooks.
Terkel, to me, is a pioneer in the school of narrative history, and Silas, thanks for spotlighting him. Good luck with NHD, and hopefully we'll hear from you again at Nationals!

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