December 10, 2008

Take it easy, Studs … but take it!


Howard Zinn speaks about Studs Terkel at Cooper Union memorial

Howard Zinn speaks about Studs Terkel at the Cooper Union memorial. To the left behind ZIn, Andre Schiffrin sits next to Terkel's son, Dan, and at the opposite end is Jimmy Breslin.

A memorial to oral historian Studs Terkel — who died last October 31st at age 96 — was held in New York City this past weekend. Sponsored by The New Press, Terkel’s long-time publisher, as well as The Nation and The Indypendent, speakers included Howard Zinn, Jimmy Breslin, Walter Mosley, Victor Navasky, and the only publisherr Terkel would ever work with, New Press founder André Schiffrin. As Stephen Greenhouse reports in The New York Times, Schiffrin told the crowd, “Studs was able to get the best out of people,” while historian Zinn hailed Terkel for bring average people into the telling of hisotry. “He was always concerned with what he called the ‘et cetera’ of history. The people left out,” Zinn observed. “One of the things you learn from him is this incurable optimism. Not that everything’s going to be O.K., but that human beings are essentially good, maybe not all human beings, but enough human beings to change the world, and that’s all we want.” And Nation publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel noted, “If he had an ism, his ism was underdog-ism.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.