Studs Terkel was an award-winning author and broadcast personality who was best known for chronicling the lives of Americans from the Great Depression to the early 21st century. Beginning his 50-plus year career in Chicago, Terkel first worked with the radio division of the WPA Writers Project. Over the years, his radio programs evolved from musical offerings to an interview format, including his award-winning show, The Studs Terkel Program. In 1966, at the age of 55, Terkel wrote his first best-selling book, a collection of oral-history interviews that examined the 20th century urban life in and around Chicago. This work was followed by a succession of more oral-history books on the Depression, World War II, race relations, labor, and the American dream. For his many contributions to American Letters, Terkel has been awarded numerous awards and honors, including the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. Later, in 1997 President Clinton awarded Terkel the National Humanities Medal. Terkel was also a recipient of a George Polk Career Award and the National Book Critics Circle 2003 Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award. On top of that, despite not being black, Terkel was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Black Writers at the insistence of American author Haki Madhubuti.
Although Terkel achieved double alumnus status at the University of Chicago, he tended to downplay the influence of his formal education. Terkel first enrolled in 1928, but despite his prolific output as an author, he never wrote about his years as an undergraduate student, only that he graduated in 1932. That same year, he enrolled in U of C's Law School because of his admiration for the legendary defense lawyer Clarence Darrow's work during the Scopes Trial. But unlike Darrow, Terkel was an indifferent student and his memories of law classes were often articulated with wry detachment. According to Terkel's personal papers, law classes were often relegated to a lowly fourth place behind movies, baseball, and music. Nonetheless, in 1934, Terkel received a Juris Doctor degree from the school.
Following graduation, Terkel maintained an ambiguous relationship with his alma mater, but in 2002 he turned a few heads on campus when he agreed to give the commencement address at the U of C Laboratory Schools. Two years later, he also agreed to be interviewed during the 2004 Alumni Weekend. Then in 2005 university leaders decided to honor Terkel's legacy by hosting a 3-day festival titled, "Let’s Get Working: Chicago Celebrates Studs Terkel." Held on campus at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, the event featured public conversation, film, music, and art inspired by Terkel's amazing life as one of Chicago’s premier storytellers.