I was very saddened to hear this weekend that Pulitzer Prize winning author, radio broadcaster and activist Studs Terkel had died at 96. I’m not going to go into huge amounts of detail about his career and his life, because his hometown paper, the Chicago Tribune, has created a fantastic tribute to his life and works here, where you can spend a few minutes learning about Mr. Terkel’s fascinating life and his many professional accomplishments.
I would, however, like to pay a very small personal tribute to Studs Terkel today because although he wrote about subjects as diverse as the great musicians of the early years of jazz, the subject of race relations in America, and his own personal search for faith — there is one book that stands out for me among his many works, because if it weren’t for that book, then “My Cool Job” probably wouldn’t exist, and I wouldn’t have made the acquaintance of so many Cool Jobsters, and so many awesome readers who’ve now become my blogging “family”!
The book is entitled Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, and was published in 1972. I first read it in the late 80s, as I was starting my own working life and things I read in “Working” back then still affect me today. Studs Terkel spent many years interviewing people from every walk of life and every level of the economic scale about their jobs and how their working life changed their outlook on the world. Although some of the people in the book had fascinating, glamorous careers, the majority of interviewees had the sort of blue collar, industrial and service jobs that keep the real world operating smoothly — the sort of jobs that most of us never even stop to think about.
After the first few pages, I couldn’t put “Working” down. It wasn’t filled with clever, witty descriptions of colorful characters doing menial tasks, and it wasn’t filled with detailed analyses of how each profession fit into the grand scheme of American Society. After each short chapter introduction, “Working” was filled with the words of the workers themselves, as told to someone who they felt comfortable enough with to share in depth not only the tasks that comprised their jobs, but the feelings they had about their work and their lives.
For years after that, and still today here on my blog, I’ve been inspired to ask everyone I meet the same sorts of questions that Studs Terkel asked about work, and have never been bored with any of the answers.
I regret that it took his passing for me to let you readers know that if there’s a “patron saint” here at My Cool Job, it’s certainly Studs Terkel. I hope I can do justice to his memory by continuing to share the world of work with all of you.