One of the parts of building the Studs Terkel Radio Archive that we’re most excited about is inviting all sorts of people to come and be guest curators.

What does that mean?

The short answer is that we’re asking people who knew Studs, who were influenced by his work, whose own work is somehow in the spirit of Studs or who we just think will have smart, funny, fascinating things to say to pick a moment or several moments from the archive and talk about them.

We want to hear how things have changed since the original interview took place, what surprises or infuriates a listener, how Studs’s programs make them think differently and even what these historic conversations tell us about the acts of asking questions and listening.

In the spring of 2014 at a two-day Studs Terkel festival at the University of Chicago Ira Glass gave a talk about listening to many of Studs’s programs in the archive and one of the intriguing observations he made was how Studs doesn’t always go for the narrative in his talks. It was an insightul observation that I hadn’t thought of before. Ira Glass really zoomed in on the specific questions Studs poses and (using his semiotic background) he took apart the structure and flow of some of the interviews. For example, when James Baldwin, in a 1962 interview with Studs, talked about how on his return to the United States after years abroad in self-imposed exile in Switzerland and France when he met old friends he understood that he no longer felt like he and they came from the same country, Glass mused about how if he was in Studs’s place he would have asked Baldwin to really describe a specific example of an experience meeting a specific friend and telling a story. Create a narrative with suspense and specificity. Recreate the moment. Whereas Studs forsoke narrative and instead took the conversation in a more ideas-driven, “abstract” direction. Fascinating in it’s own way, full of marvelous perceptions. But a completely different kind of radio-making than Ira Glass practices on This American Life.

That sort of observation about how a conversation unfolds and what it says about the values of individuals and society (and how they’ve changed over time) is something we’re fascinated to explore through this guest curator series.

Our first step is to make a long wish-list of people to invite to guest curate.

We’re not holding back in our aspirations of who to invite (“hey Bill Clinton, Patti Smith, Stephen Hawking, Orhan Pamuk, and Toni Morrison – do you want to come talk about Studs?”). The list is already 200 long. The timeline is flexible.

Once someone says yes, we help them find an interview or several that excites them. It might be a program featuring a novelist or musician who inspired them or about a moment in history that they lived through.

Then the curator listens on their own and makes note of excerpts that they find especially fascinating and they tell us. After that we invite them to come to our studios here at WFMT in Chicago (or we go to them with a Zoom recorder) and we ask them about the program and what it makes them think about. The results are unpredictable and they set the agenda.

Then we take what they’ve said and edit it down into a short (8-12 minute) podcast mixing clips from the archive interview with the curator’s contemporary reflections. Paloma Orozco, our lead producer for the Studs Terkel Guest Curator Podcast, and a team of other producers, will be creating the programs.

The results will be (might be – since we’re just getting started and don’t truly know how they’ll sound yet) a little window into the past… a personal tour into how another person listens… and a tool for navigating this admittedly immense and daunting collection.

We’d love to hear what Salman Rushdie thinks about Studs’s talk with Kurt Vonnegut or what thoughts a historic interview with Maya Angelou prompts Michelle Obama to have.

Vladimir Putin: let’s sit down listen to Studs’s commentary on the 1968 Democratic Convention and Mayor Daley’s mission to “preserve disorder.” We’ll all learn a thing or two.

Bob Dylan – want to come reflect in the interview you did with Studs more than 50 years ago, when your first album came out and Studs? It’s here waiting for you.

We’re also interested (in Studs’s spirit) in having plenty of non-famous curators.

We’ll have high school students tell us what Studs’s program about riding the train to join the Civil Rights March in Washington means to them. Or a couple of cab drivers talk about what they think listening to Studs’s many impromptu interviews with cabbies.

So stay tuned. We expect the first few guest curator podcasts to start appearing in the coming months. Among those arriving first should be writer Alex Kotlowitz, artistic director of the Chicago Humanities Festival Matti Bunzl, Audrey Petty whose oral history of Chicago Public Housing “High Rise Stories” is in a similar vein as Studs’s oral history books, journalist Rick Kogan who grew up knowing Studs and more.

 

If you have an idea for a guest curator, send us an email tmacaluso@wfmt.com. And we invite you to comment in turn on what the curators say.

Tony Macaluso

Matti Bunzl

Stuart Dybek 

Amy Goodman

Rick Kogan

Alex Kotlowitz

Andrew Patner

Audrey Petty