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Studs and Chicago

Harper’s publisher John MacArthur praises Studs Terkel’s erudition but manages to comes off sounding snobbish in the attempt.  First, during Studs’ memorial gathering, he spies a quotation by Joseph Addison in the dome of the Cultural Center, and comments that “in Chicago, Addison signifies only one thing: a street where the Cubs play baseball.”

MacArthur seems to imply that in other American cities, Addison the essayist is widely celebrated.  But actually it’s worth asking whether MacArthur himself has read much more of Addison than that quote in the dome.

Then there’s this:

“Chicago was Studs’s stage, his inspiration and his beloved home, but the Second City was never really hospitable to his left-wing dissent and often hostile to his deeply intellectual nature.”

Again, the implication is that other American cities welcome and honor dissenters.  Anyway, it was a pretty good home for Studs, he chose to stay, he worked through the blacklist, he read at a mayor’s inauguration, and he had an awful lot of friends and fans.

What would Studs say?  Often he’d quote Nelson Algren on Chicago: “‘Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.”

MacArthur confesses that reading Studs, he “didn’t really appreciate the subtlety of his intelligence and writing” — until he encountered him at a dinner party at his publisher’s apartment in New York City and learned, to his astonishment, Studs could recite great poetry at great length.

So this may be a guy who can appreciate Studs’ intellectual heft but not the purposes to which he put it.  Or, perhaps, the value of voices from the neighborhood, and of roots. Or, perhaps, love.

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