Banned Books Week: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

Banned Books Week

The American Library Association designates the last week in September as Banned Books Week.  (We’re starting our celebration a little early.)

Their FAQ page explains that a book must be challenged before it is banned, and that most challenges are not successful.  But some are, even if only temporarily – such as the attempt to take Persepolis out of Chicago Public Schools.  The American Library Association points out that most challenges are made with good intentions, such as CPS’s concern that “some students would not be developmentally capable of handling the mature content,” but they strongly believe in the freedom to read.

Fundamentally, the censorship and attempted censorship of books is a First Amendment issue: those who challenge have the right to express their opinions and concerns, and writers have the right to express themselves.  This dissent, rooted on both sides in freedom of speech, is an essential piece of our American democracy.  As such, we’re proud to have an archive full of challenged writers including James Baldwin, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, and Madeline L’Engle.

Toni Morrison, 2008

Today, we’re featuring a 1977 conversation with Toni Morrison about her book Song of Solomon.  The book was #84 on ALA’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-1999, and had moved up to #72 on the 2000-2009 list.  Morrison’s books Beloved and The Bluest Eye are also on both lists.  Morrison has won the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Pulitzer Prize.

The Conversation

For much of the hour, Studs and Ms. Morrison talk about storytelling, transcendence, memories, and love. Here they talk about the very beginning of the book that sets up for everything else that occurs.

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They go on to talk about the women in the book, who Ms. Morrison describes as “the lovers, nurturers, as well as builders.” The story she tells about Not-Doctor Street highlights the conflict between an oral tradition based in memory and the world of “official” memory as kept by bureaucratic records.

The Atlanta Black Star highlights some occasions when the book was challenged; the word “filth” is rather prevalent.  (Check out its entire list of “10 Black Books You May Not Have Known Were Banned or Challenged.”)  The Marshall University Libraries also highlights some instances, and cites “profanity, sexual imagery, and a story line about an incestuous relationship” as possible reasons. In this clip, Studs and Ms. Morrison talk about the relationship between Milkman and Hagar, who are cousins.

But the most upsetting elements in this book may be the facts, not the stories.  Taking a page from the chaos that ensued after the Civil War (and the racially driven apathy that accompanied it, in the best of cases), Ms. Morrison explains how her protagonist, Macon Dead, got his name.  She and Studs go on to talk about instances in which the poor and illiterate in America have been taken advantage of.

There’s a good deal more to the interview, but we didn’t want to spoil the ending of the book!  You can find Song of Solomon at your local library and decide for yourself whether or not it should stay on the shelves.  Scroll down and enter your zip code in the box: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/990594296

Photo by Angela Radulescu via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/walkingthedeepfield/2301126276/in/photostream/ CC BY-SA 2.0

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Countdown to Jazz Fest: Dizzy Gillespie

This year, the Chicago Jazz Festival will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of Dizzy Gillespie’s birth, and the 70th anniversary of his big band.  Studs and Dizzy spoke on the radio a few times, and Dizzy was one of the artists profiled in Studs’ Giants of Jazz.  Dizzy Gillespie was one of the founders of bebop, and is also known for bringing Latin jazz to a wider audience with songs such as “A Night in Tunisia” and “Tin Tin Deo.”

In 1961, he and Studs had a long chat.  Studs starts out by asking, “What about you, Diz?  At the time this was highly controversial music… so called named figures and commentators and critics were giving you a rough time yet you stuck to your guns.”  They continue and talk about the difference between being a “surgeon” when listening, and just feeling the music.  Dizzy says, “Don’t try to understand it, just try to feel the music.  If you get a feeling about it, it’s not too necessary to understand that music I don’t think.”

Studs asks about Dizzy’s influences, including Latin and Cuban music.  Dizzy talks about working with Chano Pozo and then tells him, “Something about me, my makeup, musically is sort of on the Latin side because most of the tunes that I write are Latin influenced… The melody that I have in my mind always lends itself to a Latin beat.”

Hear the conversation here:

And then check out “Tin Tin Deo” performed by the Dizzy Gillespie quartet (co-written by Chano Pozo and Gil Fuller)

Studs tells Dizzy he’s heard that Quincy Jones has described Dizzy as someone who “plays the horn like a drummer.” Dizzy replies: “the way I play, I have rhythm in my mind first.  And then naturally you have the chord changes that goes with it, but you make up the notes to fit the rhythm… It’s the same thing as a drummer only he doesn’t have notes.”

The conversation continues as Studs asks Dizzy about his time playing at the Birdhouse, which did not serve alcohol.  Dizzy prefers to play to an audience that has not been drinking, and doesn’t like to play under the influence either.  Then Studs asks him about his trip to South America, and his composition “Lorraine,” named for Dizzy’s wife.

Here the conversation here:

And then check out “Lorraine.”

 

Towards the end of their conversation, Dizzy tells Studs he’d like to start a school in West Africa: “they have contributed so much to us and they have gotten so little in return… I figure that they could use me… This is a matter of service.”  Dizzy goes on to tell Studs, “I have such a strong feeling for the whole of Africa that any part of it would be like being in my living room or something.” 

Studs asks about the song “My Man,” and Dizzy tells the story of when he first played it as a dedication to French singer and entertainer Minstinguett, who sang the song as”Mon Homme.”

Finally, Dizzy gives Studs a great farewell, saying, “Such a pleasure to sit down and chat with someone who has such a strong feeling about jazz, and not only the strong feeling, but back it up with knowledge about the situation.”

Hear the conversation here:

 

Photo by William Gottlieb, courtesy of the Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/item/gottlieb.03291/

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Countdown to Jazz Fest

Chicago loves Jazz Fest, and so do we at STRA.  To get ready for the big weekend, we’ve selected clips of artists remembering their personal and musical influences.

Studs loved talking to musicians, and he was so excited by jazz musicians that he wrote a book about them!  He loved jazz for it’s improvisation, and for its deep roots (along with blues and gospel) in the African-American slave communities. He was fascinated by how jazz musicians worked, often commenting or asking about quirks such as humming while playing.  I have a suspicion that he also liked talking to jazz musicians because he got to stay after hours at the jazz clubs, as he does in the interview with Milt Jackson and Ray Brown.

In 1962, Studs talked with pianist and composer Erroll Garner.  He tells Studs that because he couldn’t read piano music growing up, he was never particularly interested in seeing piano players perform.  It was the big bands that really caught his eye (and ear), and shaped his playing.  As Studs says to him, “In your mind then, you imagine that you are not just playing a piano but that you are a big band!”

Tenor player Lawrence “Bud” Freeman talked with Studs in 1974.  When Studs asks about his influences, Bud Freeman remembers that as a high schooler, he and his friends would visit the jazz clubs in the South Side of Chicago.  He called it “the best education I could have had in music.” He goes on to talk about Jack Pettis and Coleman Hawkins, and how they changed the landscape for the tenor saxophone in jazz.

In 1981, Studs caught up with Milt Jackson and Ray Brown after a performance.  Milt Jackson talks about how his years as a vocalist affect how he plays the vibes.  Ray Brown talks about how important Jimmy Blanton was to his playing, and for bass players in general: “He sounded as interesting playing time as he did playing solos.”

In this clip from a conversation in 1984, singer Lena Horne reflects on her own life experience and seeing the world change as she grew up.  Studs remembers that he and Ms. Horne were both at Paul Robeson’s fiftieth birthday celebration.  She goes on to talk about learning from Paul Robeson: “Paul gave me a sense of my own history.”

A sense of history is perhaps what Studs loved best about jazz – the line of the music, passed from mentor to student, was like a story being retold and reworked for each new generation.

 

Lena Horne photo By Metro Goldwyn Mayer (ebay front back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lena_Horne_1955.JPG
MJQ photo by Philips Records – Billboard, page 21, 7 November 1964, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27172210
Erroll Garner photo [Portrait of Erroll Garner, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948] by William P. Gottlieb, courtesy of the Library of Congress – https://www.loc.gov/item/gottlieb.03011/
Bud Freeman photo [Portrait of Bud Freeman, Eddie Condon’s, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948] by William P. Gottlieb, courtesy of the Library of Congress – https://loc.gov/item/gottlieb.11651

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Disability Pride 2017

This Saturday is Chicago’s Disability Pride parade, to celebrate Disability Awareness Month.

“Disability” used to have a very limited application and although not everyone is aware of it, the definition has widened to include people with chronic physical illnesses or conditions, learning disabilities, cognitive disorders or delays, mental illnesses, and autism spectrum disorders.

We’ve hunted through the archive to find three recordings that demonstrate the broad mindset of the disability community, and that remind listeners, then and now, that being different is nothing to be ashamed of. Continue reading →

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Happy Birthday Gwendolyn!

We in Chicago are very proud of our hometown star, Gwendolyn Brooks.  She was poet laureate in Illinois and the first African-American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize.  Often her works, such as In The Mecca and A Street in Bronzeville, brought readers from around the world into the living rooms and front stoops of Chicago.  The Poetry Foundation describes her work as “express[ing] the poet’s commitment to her people’s awareness of themselves as a political and cultural entity.”

Ms. Brooks joined Studs in the studio in 1961, 1967, and 1975.  He introduces her to the listening audience by saying “through the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, we learn more of the dreams, the hopes, the visions of the Black people of Chicago better than through any other form, I feel.”

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Memorial Day 2017

In memory of those we’ve lost, we’ve put together this special collection of voices.  The first two are stories from those who fought alongside soldiers who were killed; the last is the recollection of a man who saw the aftermath of Kristallnacht as a child.  All of us at STRA are grateful for the sacrifices made by those in the armed forces and their families.

David Schoenbrun was a foreign correspondent for CBS, and according to Studs’ introduction, “took part in the liberation of certain French cities after World War II.”  He joined Studs in 1980 to talk about his book Soldiers of the Night: The Story of the French Resistance.  Here he tells Studs about Marie-Madeleine Foucarde, the leader of a resistant intelligence network.

Ron Kovic is best-known for his book Born on the Fourth of July.  He talked with Studs in 1977 about the emotional difficulties he encountered while writing the book and what inspired him to finish it.

Werner Burkhardt was a German jazz critic and the author of The Story of Jazz: From New Orleans Jazz to Rock Jazz.  He and Studs got together in 1967 to talk about jazz but also about Werner’s growing up in Germany as a teenager during World War II.  Here he tells Studs about his experience the morning after Kristallnacht.

 

Photo by Tony Hisgett, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21113089

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TBT: The Pentagon Papers

Map of Communist positions in South Vietnam, 1964

In 1971, analyst Daniel Ellsberg gave parts of a Department of Defense study on American involvement in Vietnam to a New York Times reporter, Neil Sheehan.  This DOD study, officially known as the “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Task Force” came to be known in common parlance as the Pentagon Papers.  The Pentagon Papers revealed to the American people that they had been misled about American actions in Vietnam for nearly a decade.

The following year, Neil Sheehan and his wife Susan (also a writer) joined Studs in the studio.  They are forbidden to discuss the legal matters surrounding the Papers’ publication (there had been a Supreme Court case over the publication, which was decided in favor of the Times), but they do discuss the relationship between journalism and truth (or, as we think of it these days, “alternative facts”), the expected and assumed honesty of people in power, leaks to the media, phone tapping, and FBI investigations.

Interview Highlights

Here, Neil talks about his career as a journalist and why he writes what he does.

In this clip Neil talks about how a “dissatisfaction of conveyance of truth” has started to change journalism.  Susan picks up the thread and points out that “They’ll always cover what President Nixon says in a press conference, but it’s much harder to get into the papers why what he’s saying is untrue.”  Neil goes on to talk about government using the media to manipulate, rather than inform, the public.

As an example of this manipulation, Neil talks about how information about North Vietnamese infiltration was leaked to the press in order to influence public feeling about the war in Vietnam.  He implicates Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and General Maxwell Taylor, a diplomat in Saigon.

Finally, Neil and Susan tell Studs how their lives have changed since the Pentagon Papers were published.  They had become the subject of an FBI investigation, and as a result their bank statements were subpoenaed, friends and relatives were questioned, and investigators even tried to get photographs of the Sheehan’s children.

Neil Sheehan has continued to write.  His ebook The Battle of Ap Bac came out in 2014.  His 1986 book A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and the National Book Award for Nonfiction.  Susan Sheehan has also continued to write, including articles for Architectural Digest through 2010 and The New Yorker through 2006.  She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1983 for Is There No Place on Earth for Me?

Photo credit: United States Military Academy (http://ehistory.osu.edu/vietnam/maps/0005.cfm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Meyer Weinberg on desegregation

May is Teacher Appreciation Month and today we’re featuring an interview with Dr. Meyer Weinberg.  Dr. Weinberg taught at Wright Community College (then Wright Junior College) in Chicago, and was a co-founder of Teachers for Integrated Schools.  He also edited the journal Integrated Education.

In 1971, the Swann v Charlotte-Mecklenberg Board of Education case was decided by the Supreme Court, allowing busing to be used to desegregate schools.  This was a controversial decision for a variety of reasons, from students not wanting to leave their neighborhoods, to Richard Nixon’s awareness of George Wallace’s impending presidential campaign.

Dr. Weinberg spoke with Studs in 1975, and is a voice strongly in favor for busing as a method to desegregate schools.

In this first clip, he talks about how the media covers the schools where busing has led to protest and violence, instead of those schools where it hasn’t; and about the success of desegregation in the South.

Here, Dr. Weinberg replies to Studs question about the relationship between educational success and desegregation, saying, “The whole society is stacked against the education of minority kids.”

Finally, Dr. Weinberg compares the desegregation experience in Pontiac, MI and Kalamazoo, MI, saying, “You can’t just analyze a specific problem with generalities.”

Over 40 years later, we can see that desegregating schools requires a far more complex solution than busing students across city lines, but this interview is a valuable snapshot of another facet in the work for civil rights.

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Thich Nhat Hanh, poet and activist

line from Thich Nhat Hanh's "Condemnation"

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk, peace activist, and poet.  By 1971, when he joined Studs in the studio, he had spent years campaigning for peace in Vietnam; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Thich Nhat Hanh and Studs discuss the Vietnam War and two books of his poetry that had been translated into English at that time: Cry of Vietnam, and Vietnam: Lotus in A Sea of Fire.

In this clip, Studs tells Thich Nhat Hanh that he has heard about American soldiers finding poems in the pockets of the dead Vietnamese.  Thich Nhat Hanh uses this story to demonstrate how important poetry is in the Vietnamese culture.

They continue the conversation about poetry in Vietnam, and its importance even among non-literate populations.  Thich Nhat Hanh recites an example of one of the spontaneous poems of the farmers.  This leads to a conversation of the ongoing destruction of this culture: “The kinds of things imported, together with this war, has been destroying much of our way of thinking and creating.”  To show how hopeless things have become, Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story of Vietnamese people trying to raise earthworms in order to save the land that was destroyed through defoliation.

Thich Nhat Hanh talks with Studs about his experience of speaking and reading his poems to a group of anti-war veterans in Washington, D.C.  He tells Studs they are “very, very brave in recognizing the truth.” One of the poems he reads to the veterans is “Condemnation,” which you can read here.

Studs asks Thich Nhat Hanh about his feelings on the war.  Thich Nhat Hanh discusses the policy of “Vietnamization” as opposed to a cease-fire.  He also says that “most of the Vietnamese people feel the same way — they want the war to end at this very moment.”

Thich Nhat Hanh tells Studs about a family he knows whose home was burned six times in five years; they continually moved to escape the violence but were unable to.  “Sometime[s] we don’t know [if] what we have in our heart is hope or just illusions, because life would be impossible without some hope in the future.  That is why sometime[s] we are very ready to accept illusions as hope.”

Photo by James K. F. Dung, SFC, Photographer – This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 530610. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78487

The Studs Terkel Radio Archive is a partnership between the WFMT Radio Network and the Chicago History Museum.

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“We’re all sisters together”: Remembering the 1970 Women’s Strike

This post was written by one of our interns, Rachel Newlin.

On March 8th 2017, women across the world are planning to strike in an effort to create an International Day of Action in honor of International Women’s Day.

High schools and college campuses are closing in anticipation of the strike, unable to continue business without their female employees. This international strike is seen as ‘the beginning of a new international feminist movement’ and has been garnering great media attention across the United States. Women across the country are striking from paid jobs, childcare, housework, among other truths of female existence – and it all feels very familiar. That is because this will be the second Women’s Strike where thousands of women rise up and demand equal treatment and change under the law.

On August 26th 1970, on the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, thousands of women marched across the country for many of the same things.

Second-wave feminist Betty Friedan led the strike, organized by NOW, the National Organization for Women. Friedan was met with a lot of resistance when she first brought up the idea of a strike – older women were scared that the strike wouldn’t turn out and the media would mock, them while younger generations of women were sure that the move wasn’t radical enough. Still, Friedan moved forward with the idea, and across the country, the idea caught on. Studs met with a few of these women in March of 1970, where he parsed complex ideas of oppression and the female experience with them in a fascinating two-part interview.

1970 Women's Liberation March, Washington, D.C.

1970 Women’s Liberation March, Washington, D.C.

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