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Friday, October 20

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"Although there is a Division Street in Chicago, the title of this book is metaphorical."

When Studs Terkel first embarked on his project to talk to "ordinary" people about their lives and attitudes, he wanted to find a single street in Chicago where "all manner of ethnic, racial and income groups live," but he was told there was none. As a result, Terkel provides the above disclaimer in his introduction to Division Street. The title suggests, however, that Division Street was as close to that ideal as one could find in Chicago in 1965, when Terkel conducted many of the interviews.

First published in 1967, Division Street: America features edited interviews with 70 people from all across the Chicago area. From bartenders to schoolteachers, cab drivers to policemen, window washers to homemakers, the lives collected within the pages cross racial, ethnic, generational and economic borders.

Some of their stories are only a paragraph long. Others run for several pages. They talk about their lives, Chicago, God, the Bomb and race relations in America. But overall, their stories capture the struggles, hopes, fears and dreams of everyday Chicagoans in the 1960s. And when reading Division Street today, one cannot help but reflect on how things have—and have not—changed since then.

About the Author

Louis "Studs" Terkel was born on May 16, 1912 in New York City. His father was a tailor and his mother a seamstress. The family moved to Chicago around 1923, where his mother managed the Wells Grand, a hotel for working men.

After graduating from McKinley High School in 1928, Terkel attended college, earning his law degree from the University of Chicago in 1934. But he wasn't really cut out for the law, and ended up beginning a career in radio.

Sometime during this period Louis Terkel adopted the nickname "Studs" after Studs Lonigan, the protagonist of James T. Farrell's classic Studs Lonigan trilogy.

Terkel's first book, Giants of Jazz, was published in 1957. The book includes portraits of 13 well-known jazz musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday.

His second book, Division Street: America, however, was the book that set the pattern his subsequent books would follow and established Terkel's reputation as an oral historian. Although it seems incredible, given the number of books that have followed Division Street, Studs Terkel was 55 years old when the book was published in 1967.

In 1985, Terkel won the Pulitzer Prize for "The Good War": An Oral History of World War II. And, the city of Chicago honored Studs Terkel in 1992, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, by officially designating the bridge at Division and Halsted Streets the Studs Terkel Bridge.

Published last fall, his most recent book, And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey, fittingly returns to his musical interests, featuring 40 interviews with a diverse range of musicians, from Bob Dylan to Mahalia Jackson.

Studs Terkel is 93 years old and still resides in Chicago.

GB Book Club Details

Read Division Street: America by Studs Terkel and join the book club on Monday, February 13 at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square to discuss the book.

The Book Cellar is located at 4738 N. Lincoln Ave., and the meeting begins at 7:30 p.m.

Visit the book club's online forum to discuss the book online. And, finally, sign up for the book club mailing list for news, announcements and reminders.

Additional Resources

Studs Terkel: Conversations with America

In 2000, Studs Terkel donated about 1,400 audiotapes and reels to the Chicago Historical Society, as well as transcripts, letters and manuscripts connected to his books. In this multimedia site, the Chicago Historical Society shares a selection of interviews conducted for Terkel's long-running radio program on WFMT and several of his books. Listen to follow-up interviews with several people who appear in Division Street: America, including Kid Pharaoh and Benny Bearskin, talking about the book a couple of years after it was published. Real Audio is required to listen to the recordings.

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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a Chicago librarian. She welcomes questions and topic suggestions for her column at . Due to the volume of email received, she may not reply to every query, but you may be contacted if your question is selected for the column.

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