US author Studs Terkel dies, aged 96

 

Studs Terkel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and enduring radio-show host whose oral histories chronicled the travails and triumphs of America's working class, has died. He was 96.

Terkel, who chronicled America's history by letting common people tell their own stories in books like "Working" and "The Good War," died on Friday, his publisher said.

Born in New York, Terkel became synonymous with Chicago, the city where he moved at age 10 and rarely left. His parents ran a boarding house and a men's hotel during the Great Depression, giving the young Terkel a steady diet of the struggles of ordinary people whose stories became his life's work.

Terkel's most popular books, "Working," "Hard Times,'' and "The Good War," which earned him the Pulitzer Prize in 1985, were compilations of transcribed interviews with waitresses, truck drivers, gravediggers and prostitutes telling their own stories.

An unabashed leftist who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, Terkel considered President Franklin D. Roosevelt a hero and credited his New Deal programs for getting the US economy moving again. Terkel, who always wore a red article of clothing as a symbol of his sympathies with labor, would later rail against welfare reform and other "small government" policies that he said hurt working Americans.

The cause of death was not immediately available, a spokesman at the New Press publishing house said. Terkel had suffered from a variety of ailments, but experienced a revival in 2005 after he survived open heart surgery. His doctor said he was the oldest person ever to undergo such a procedure.

The Chicago Tribune reported that at Terkel's bedside was a copy of his latest book, "P.S. Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening," scheduled for November release.

A short, rumpled man armed with a gravelly voice and a wry grin, Terkel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for his uplifting nonfiction work "The Good War: An Oral History of World War II," one of a dozen best-selling books he wrote.

His first book was the critically acclaimed "Giants of Jazz" in 1957 and his best-known was probably "Working: What People Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do" in 1974.

His books dispensed with literary style and instead focused on words spoken by ordinary men and women - factory workers, neighborhood activists, policemen and crooks - as well as the views of the better known.

His brand of oral journalism sought to make sense of the world of blue-collar workers, world war and the Depression. "If I did one thing I'm proud of, it's to make people feel that together, they count," he said in a 2007 Reuters interview.

Reuters