This blog, as explained in our About, takes its name from Studs Terkel’s Division Street: America.
“Division Street is both an homage to the Studs Terkel book about the divisions in American politics as well as a metaphoric nod to the real street in Chicago that stretches from the infamous Rush Street entertainment district through the gentrifying arts district of Wicker Park and largely Hispanic and African American neighborhoods on the West Side to the suburbs. In this way, Division Street encapsulates the dynamism and divisions of the city, and we hope this blog does that too.”
I have occasionally posted “Division Dispatches” here that illustrate the divisions and dynamisms of the real Division Street as a way to hopefully illuminate the nation’s Division Street, as envisioned by Studs.
And it is to Division Street: America that I turn first in a brief round-up of Studs encomiums from the weekend.
“On undertaking this assignment, I immediately called Dr. Philip Hauser, former chairman of the University of Chicago’s Sociology Department, one of the country’s best informed demographers,” Studs wrote – in 1967 – in the book’s Prefatory Notes. “Is there a street in Chicago today where all manner of ethnic, racial, and income groups live? His reply – though a blow – was not unexpected. There is none. As late as twenty-five years ago, Halsted Street may have encompassed all these peoples. There is a quarter-mile radius on the Near North Side of the city that might fit these specifications; upper-middle-income high-rise complexes have sprung up with startling suddenness in the rooming-house heartland. They are adjacent to one another, at this moment. Still the area I was seeking was a matter of conjecture, even here. The nomadic, transient nature of contemporary life has made diffusion the order – or disorder – of the city. The bulldozer and the wrecking ball have played their roles.”
“Although detractors derided him as a sentimentalist populist whose views were simplistic and occasionally maudlin, Mr. Terkel was widely credited with transforming oral history into a popular literary form,” the New York Times wrote in its obituary. “Division Street consisted of transcripts of 70 conversations Mr. Terkel had with people of every sort in and around Chicago. Peter Lyon, reviewing it in The New York Times Book Review, said it was ‘a modern morality play, a drama with as many conflicts as life itself’.”
“Was he the greatest Chicagoan?” Roger Ebert wrote. “I cannot think of another.”
“In 1997 he went to the White House to receive the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal of Arts with a group including Jason Robards, Angela Lansbury, conductor James Levine, Chicago religion scholar Martin Marty and Chicago arts patron Richard Franke,” Rick Kogan recalled in his tribute. “He was stopped at the White House gate and asked for identification. Studs, who had never driven a car, did not have a driver’s license. The only thing he could come up with to appease the White House guards was his CTA seniors pass. They let him in.”
“His writings, broadcasts, and interviews shed light on what it meant to be an American in the 20th century,” Barack Obama said in a statement.
“It is inconceivable that such a long and creative life would have passed without someone asking Terkel the signature question of all ages, ‘What is your work all about?’ That happened a few years ago,” the Tribune editorial page said.
“Terkel’s answer was simple, revealing, profound. All those books, he said, were about redemption.
“’Anybody can be redeemed,’ he said. ‘I’ve seen it’.”
And finally, from Neil Steinberg’s piece: “As far as social justice goes, ‘I’m on a quest,’ he said. ‘I’m Don Quixote. Of course I want to tilt at windmills. I want to tilt at other things. It’s the Don Quixotes of the world – call them the seekers of the ideal – who keep the juices going, give them pepper, the salt, change it for the good.”