Monday, November 3, 2008

In praise of ordinary stories

This is a couple days late, but Studs Terkel died Friday.

He was 96. He requested his epitaph read "Curiosity did not kill this cat."

His writing is the sort I enjoy the most. Stories of ordinary people. He called it guerrilla journalism.

Here's an except from how he went about writing Division Street.
“Although there is a Division Street in Chicago, the title of this book is metaphorical … I was on the prowl for a cross-section of urban thought, using no one method or technique. I was aware it would take me to suburbs, upper, lower, and middle income, as well as to the inner city itself and its outlying sections … It finally came down to individuals, no matter where in the city or its environs they lived. Being neither a sociologist, nor a research man, motivational or otherwise, I followed no blueprint or set of statistics … It was the man of inchoate thought I was seeking rather than the consciously articulate … In no instance did I deliberately seek out the bizarre in people … Each has pertinent comments to make on urban life in the twentieth century.”

And here he explains his interviewing technique.
“It isn’t an inquisition; it’s an exploration, usually an exploration into the past. So I think the gentlest question is the best one, and the gentlest is, ‘And what happened then?'"