The Reader’s archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we’ll dig through and bring up some finds.
Years after Studs Terkel published his best-known work, he was writing letters to the editor in the Chicago Reader in response to pieces he disagreed with—and some he agreed with as well. The first that survives in digital form is from 1991 and concerns a story about venerable journalist John Callaway; the last is from late 2002, when Terkel was 90 years old.
Because his letters mostly concerned news stories, many aren’t especially relevant today (the John Ashcroft jokes feel particularly dated). Still, there are nuggets of insight and humor in many. His letter about a 1999 piece by Mara Tapp (on the birth of the Old Town School of Folk Music) begins with this paragraph: “When a journalistic lout writes a piece that is patently dishonest or untrue, I take a pass. It’s par for the course. But when someone I respect does a slovenly job of like nature, it does bad things to my blood pressure.”
A letter in defense of the Chicago cabbie (his last to the Reader) is particularly lovely, including this line: “The cabbies these days are of all worlds, the new, the old, the first, the second, the third. Their stories are invariably the same.”
My favorite, though—and the letter that’s perhaps most worth reading in full—is Terkel’s gleeful takedown of Joel Sprayreger, Esq., who’d written to the Reader in response to another letter to the editor by Terkel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Throughout, he refers to Sprayreger by his full name, title and all. After contrasting the man’s views to those of Einstein and the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, Terkel notes, “I realize that anyone who appends an Esq. after his signature is a figure of some importance.”