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Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel, broadcaster and author, has crossed the country for over two decades interviewing the American people on such topics as the Great Depression, World War II, and their jobs, and creating books that reveal their intimate portraits. My American Century (1997) is a collection of the most memorable interviews from his eight classic works which include: Division Street (1967), Hard Times (1970), Working (1974), The Good War (1984), which won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, The Great Divide 1988), and RACE (1992).

Terkel's books have touched profoundly upon our lives."
- Willie Morris, Tribune Books

Studs Terkel's new book may well be his most popular. Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who’ve Lived It is a collective portrait of our times, woven from the voices of seventy very different people, the youngest of whom is seventy and the oldest ninety-nine. Together they give us an extraordinary panorama of American Life and work throughout this century and underscore the ways in which the times have changed.

Terkel has chosen people with the widest range of experiences from all around the country, from the angry farmer in Nebraska to the resigned bank president in New York, to those who were at the vanguard of their movements, whether of trade unions, gay liberation, or the arts. One of the most startling discoveries in the book is the vigor and strength of some of the oldest people--whose will and courage have not diminished despite their age and, in many cases, infirmity.

Coming of Age is also, in many ways, a sequel to Terkel’s acclaimed Working (1974), for it traces the extraordinary ways our working lives have changed in the past few decades--often beyond recognition. We meet politicians and preachers, advertising men and hucksters. Here is the partner in a large law firm, suing the colleagues who have forced him out; here, too, is the carpenter, accepting as inevitable the replacement of his skilled tasks by machine. But this is not a group of disgruntled Luddites;

PHOTO CREDIT: RON EDMONDS/AP
Pres. & Mrs. Clinton escort Studs Terkel after
presenting him with a 1997 National Humanities
Medal last September
most accept--indeed welcome--the new technologies, yet they all deplore the degree to which human contact has declined and how traditional hopes and aspirations have been superseded by the often ruthless demands of the modern corporation. Coming of Age tells us what we once were and reminds us what we have lost. It is inspiring in the honesty of its voices, the lack of nostalgia and illusion, and the mixed feelings of hope and sorrow for the new generations that may not know what they have missed.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Studs Terkel will be eighty-six this year, placing him right in the middle of those he interviewed for this book. His radio program on WFMT is still broadcast each day in Chicago, and his oral histories--a genre he has largely created and defined--remain widely read throughout the world. At present, he is beginning to organize the nine thousand interviews that he has accumulated over the years, planning a new series of broadcasts and books based on this incomparable archives.

Studs Terkel was a guest at the New York State Writers Institute on May 5, 1998


"Old men should be explorers,” Eliot wrote. The ageless Studs Terkel, who has explored so much else, has now, in his eighties, turned his attention to age itself Coming of Age gives us a remarkable range of people who, while subject to the usual vicissitudes of age, have nevertheless found the Biblical three-score-and-ten the beginning of a new form of life, a true coming of age. Their stories, often so simply told, are real, moving, and inspiring. It is a collection that only Studs could have brought together." - Oliver Sacks

"I read Studs Terkel's introduction to Coming of Age and said (out loud) 'goddamn!' I went through Ping Ferry's story and said, 'I'll be.' I found Sophie Mumford's account of her life with Lewis and said, 'Ah, God!' I haven't reacted to a book so strongly for a very long time." - Robert Heilbroner

'Studs, the only person to do it, yet again preserves for future generations the beauty of uncelebrated but undefeated, brave and just Americans, in this case those whose long lifetimes are likely to expire along with a notoriously disgraceful century." - Kurt Vonnegut

"On balance, I find little merit in great age. But in a metaphor I now often hear, there are some points of light, and Studs Terkel's Coming of Age is a brilliant one. If one must be old, he or she should read this book--and so should the decently contemplative young." - John Kenneth Galbraith

Cosponsored by the Greater Capital Regional Teacher Center

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