Madeleine L’Engle, Author of ‘A Wrinkle In Time,’ on Big Minds and Tiny People

Madeleine L’Engle received dozens of rejections before she finally succeeded in getting her beloved classic, ‘A Wrinkle in Time,’ published. 

Today more than 16 million copies of the book have been sold in 40 languages, and Disney has poured more than $100 million into bringing the story to the big screen. But, back in the early 1960s, not everyone saw its potential.

“I thought it was a terrific book,” L’Engle told Studs in 1983, “and I was not prepared for two years of rejection slips.”

L’Engle said in 1980 that she believed the problem was lack of imagination — and comprehension.  

“These tired old editors would read it and they couldn’t understand it and therefore they would assume that children couldn’t understand it. So, for two years, they rejected it.”

But L’Engle knew better. She long believed that children are more capable of much more profound scientific and spiritual understanding than many adults give them credit for.

“[Young people’s] minds are still open, they haven’t shut down their… barricades. They haven’t barred the doors and closed the shutters. They are still open to new ideas,” she told Studs.

In fact, L’Engle tailored her characters accordingly.

“If I think the book is going to be too difficult for adults, I will make my protagonist 12, 14, something like that.”

Her role, as an author, then, was to provide them with opportunities to do grapple with big questions, and imagine vast possibilities.

“I think children are looking for meaning in a world that is confused and I hope my books offer some hope or meaning… a structure that liberates rather than the structure that imprisons.”

Not that L’Engle believes ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ — or any of her novels, for that matter, are intended primarily for children.  

“I write for myself,” she told Studs. “I don’t believe that books should be slotted and pigeonholed and stuck into age levels. They are for people who like to read. And if they’re about the human predicament, if they are about what people are concerned with, then there isn’t any age limit.”

Below, listen to a 49-minute excerpt of a 1980 conversation between Studs and L’Engle, in which they discuss life, death, science, young minds, and two of her most well-known books: ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ and ‘A Ring of Endless Light.’


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Five Things Chicago’s Media Archivists Want You To Know

A cadre of Chicagoans who are hard at work salvaging our recorded history — on film, video and audio tape — recently swapped stories. They told tales of diving into dumpsters to rescue footage, of preserving and cataloging their spoils, of tiptoeing around copyright laws, and of collaborating  — with filmmakers, podcasters, artists, students, teachers, and musicians interested in exploring or using their work to create something new.

They recently gathered at the Museum of Broadcast Communications for a discussion sponsored by the Chicago/Midwest chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Panelists included:

  • Tom Weinberg and Sara Chapman of Media Burn Archive, which collects, restores and distributes documentary video and television created by artists, activists and community groups in Chicago and beyond.
  • Michelle Puetz of the Chicago Film Archive, a regional film archive dedicated to identifying, collecting, preserving and providing access to a diverse array of public and private films that represent the Midwest.
  • And, Tony Macaluso and Allison Schein Holmes of Studs Terkel Radio Archive, a public archive of more than 5,000 conversations Studs conducted over the course of his career, launching in May.
  • John Owens of the Decades Network moderated the event.

Below are just five key takeaways from their two-hour long conversation, which kicked off with some of their favorite finds and is available in full here.

  1. We should all be taking extra special care of all of our personal and professional archives — and transfer those tapes (like, yesterday).

If you produced work on VHS or other types of tape or have home movies, Sara Chapman, executive director of Media Burn, suggests taking immediate steps to preserve them.

“Videotapes are at the end of [their] lifespan now,” she said. “There have been estimates as dire as starting around 2023 it will be pretty impossible to get your tapes transferred. The tapes themselves deteriorate very quickly and they’re unrecoverable once they deteriorate. You can’t really bring back with a photochemical process like film. There’s nothing you can do.”

So move that to the top of your to-do list.

In the meantime, be careful how you store that tape. Different types of media require different storage methods, but in general, the panelists recommend keeping personal archives in a cool, dark place with as stable a temperature and as low humidity as possible.

Meanwhile, if you are digitizing video files on your own for safe storage, Chapman recommends keeping video files uncompressed, with an avi or mov wrapper.

  1. The idea that everything that has ever been created is available in the cloud is “really very, very dangerous.”

It takes a lot of time, effort and money to get all of the footage and audio from old tapes into the collective interwebs, and there is much work left to be done. Continue reading →

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Women’s Voices, Women’s Work

Are you marching (or supporting someone who is) this weekend?  Then get inspired by these ladies!

Looking forward to the Women’s Marches this weekend, we’re bringing together a collection of women’s voices: women who worked hard, pushed the envelope, and took risks to make their communities a better place.

Mairead Corrigan Maguire won the Nobel Peace prize in 1976

for starting Community of Peace People.  When she joined Studs in the studio in 1993, he asked her what sparked her action.  She told him that her sister’s children had been shot and killed as a part of the violence in Northern Ireland, which prompted her and others to start Community for Peace People.  In 1976, the Peace People began marching; after 6 months, the violence in Ireland dropped 70%.  They are still working today and are “committed to building a just and peaceful society through non-violent means.”

When Dolores Huerta joined Studs in the studio in 1975,

she talked about the terrible conditions that led her to fight for farm workers’ rights, and against the racism that Mexican-Americans were facing.  During that conversation, she takes some time to point out how especially terrible it was for women working in the fields.  Her mother did not let her work in the fields while she was growing up, so she was spared some of the worst abuses and humiliations.  Here she explains to Studs why the field work is so brutalizing, and what makes it even worse for women.
Continue reading →

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Othello in the Age of Black Lives Matter: 3

Sidney Poitier receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama, August 12, 2009

This is the final post on Studs’ 1968 conversation with James Earl Jones on his role as Othello at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.  This post takes a look at the racial prejudices that exist in casting film and stage roles, and includes excerpts of Studs’ conversations with Sidney Poitier and Peter Sellars.

Studs opens this clip by asking about prejudice in Elizabethan times.

James replies that there was prejudice against Jewish people and Black people in England at that time.  Studs had a related conversation nearly thirty years later with stage director Peter Sellars.  Here is Sellars talking about his production of The Merchant of Venice in the wake of the LAPD trial and the LA Riots.

Shortly afterward, Studs remarks to James, “The very interesting theme always comes up, open casting…

You said earlier that playing Othello calls for maturity almost as much as Lear does.  Does the idea of playing Lear, someday, not now, but someday occur to you?”

Studs asked Bahamian-American actor Sidney Poitier essentially the same question in 1959, when Mr. Poitier was on the program talking about his film The Defiant Ones.  Mr. Poitier replied, “I play Negro parts because this is the period in history when I must play Negro parts.  I think that in five, six, seven, eight, ten, twenty years, there will come a time when there will be more stress on merit and on creative ability than is paid now.  Now we give credence to casting according to type… I see no reason why an American Indian cannot play Shakespeare if he happens to be a tremendous Shakespearean actor, you follow?”

James also responded to Studs in the affirmative.  They go on to talk about Ira Aldridge (as Sidney Poitier did) and Diana Sands, and then James makes the assertion that “after the first fifteen minutes or so, you’re involved in the heart of the play as the playwright wrote it”: how the actors look doesn’t even matter to the audience.

Have we seen that change that Mr. Poitier predicted?

Not exactly, but here in Chicago, we’re seeing the second production in three years of Red Velvet, Lolita Chakrabarti’s play about Ira Aldridge.  Tarana Burke shook the nation when her Me Too campaign took off this year, joining the voices of celebrities and everyday people into a single chorus insisting on change.  Clearly the conversation about “Negro parts” is not over yet, but it has been incorporated into a broader conversation about Black voices and Black lives.

Hear the entire interview with James Earl Jones here.

Visit our post featuring more of the 1959 interview with Sidney Poitier here.

Visit our post featuring more the 1994 interview with Peter Sellars here.

Photo credit: The White House (White House video (around 29:10)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Othello in the age of Black Lives Matter: 2

We’re returning to Studs’ 1968 conversation with actor James Earl Jones.  They’re talking about his role of Othello at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and the conversation naturally moves to other aspect of race.  In this post, we’re listening to their thoughts on Othello’s marriage to Desdemona.  This was recorded only a year after the Supreme Court had made banning interracial marriage illegal in Loving v. Virginia but state laws in opposition to this held out much longer: South Carolina only took theirs off the books in 1998, and Alabama not until 2000.

This excerpt from the conversation begins with James Earl Jones saying “In this country, when a Black person asserts himself, if it does not quite fit in with the power structure’s aims… he becomes a figure of fear and suspicion.”  This was true in our country long before 1968, and certainly continues to be so.

This clip centers on Othello’s marriage to Desdemona, and the contemporary and current beliefs surrounding the love between a Black man and a white woman.  But before Studs and James really get started talking about Desdemona, Studs “had to get on that soapbox for a minute” and defend Muhammad Ali’s right to choose his own name.  Studs says that if we accept name changes from people such as Danny Kaye (born David Daniel Kaminsky) and Dean Martin (born Dino Paul Crocetti), we have no right to question Cassius Clay’s adoption of a name that does not reflect the heritage of slavery.

The subject of boxing came up because James Earl Jones had also recently performed in The Great White Hope, a play about boxer Jack Johnson (who, like Othello, had a white wife – more than one in Johnson’s case).

James compares Ali and Othello, noting that after his name change people began to question him and wonder “was he practicing some kind of social witchcraft.”  This leads back to Othello again and the notion that a Black man can only have the love of a white woman by “practicing something” on them – drugging or doping them, or as Desdemona’s father says,

Is there not charms
By which the property of youth and maidhood
May be abused?

James picks up this idea of making another human being an outsider, or other, and says, “There is two ways to approach that which is foreign to us.”  He uses Haitian Vodou as an example and lays out the two ways: trying to find a connection with this foreign idea, or “you can approach it like it’s a boogie man.”  He goes on to talk about the ways humans can be taught to think of people as different (and therefore dangerous) through brainwashing and media.

Hear Studs and James’ entire conversation here.

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Othello in the age of Black Lives Matter: 1

Fifty years ago, in February of 1968, actor James Earl Jones sat down with Studs to talk about his role as Othello in an upcoming Goodman Theatre production.  Jones was playing the role at the height of the Civil Rights movement; he and Studs never reference it explicitly but they talk a great deal about race in our nation.  What can this conversation about Othello bring to the age of Black Lives Matter?

We’ll be breaking their intense and insightful conversation into three parts.  Today, we’re exploring the character of Iago, the villain of Othello and the man who orchestrates Othello’s downfall.

The conversation begins when Studs asks James about growing up in Mississippi, and leads to James making the comparison between Iago and poor whites in America. They discuss Iago’s sense of being inexplicably passed by, and that he “resents everything he feels is oppressing him.”  Speaking of both Iago and poor racist white people in America, Studs remarks, “to survive the day, since his life is bleak and empty, he must subscribe to the myth that there is someone less than he.”  This is a fascinating comparison, considering the impact that rust and coal belt voters had on the recent presidential election.

For the next post, we’ll be looking at how Othello and Desdemona’s interracial marriage was viewed in the play.

You can hear the entire conversation here.

Best of 2017

It’s just about time for Auld Lang Syne!  We’re looking back at our most popular posts of the year, in case you missed any of them, or you want to check them out again.  Not surprisingly, our listeners (that would be you) are most interested in conversations about relevant political and social issues: women’s rights, minority voices, and censured content (banned books).  Thanks for making it such a great year.  Listen up and here’s to 2018!

On March 8, for International Women’s Day,

we featured a program from 1970 in which Studs talked with three members of the Chicago chapter of NOW about the 1970 women’s march.  This post was written by one of our interns at the time, Rachel Newlin. Check it out here: “We’re all sisters together”: Remembering the 1970 Women’s Strike

On May 18, we returned to 1970 for a conversation with journalists Neil and Susan Sheehan.

Neil Sheehan was a reporter for the New York Times, and had been the recipient of the leaked Pentagon Papers.  They talk to Studs about what we might term these days as “fake news,” as well as phone tapping and FBI investigations.  Good thing they didn’t have email and text back then.  Check it out here: TBT: The Pentagon Papers

On June 6, we featured a conversation with one of Chicago’s favorite poets, Gwendolyn Brooks.

She talks with Studs about her poetry collections, as well as the individual poems “We Real Cool” and “The Ballad of Rudolph Reed.”  The blog includes links to read and listen to Ms. Brooks read the poems they discuss . Check it out here: Happy Birthday Gwendolyn!

On August 29, in preparation for Chicago’s annual Jazz Fest,

we posted one of Studs’ conversations with Dizzy Gillespie, recorded in 1961.  They talk about the Latin influence on Dizzy’s music, and how his playing has a percussive style.  The post includes embedded videos so you can listen to the compositions they discuss.  Check it out here: Countdown to Jazz Fest: Dizzy Gillespie

On September 20, we were gearing up for Banned Books Week

with a 1977 conversation with Toni Morrison about her National Book Critics Award-winning novel Song of Solomon.  The post also serves as a primer for Banned Books Week: why books are challenged or banned, and how banning books is a First Amendment concern.  Check it out here: Banned Books Week: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

On October 5 we shared a 1969 conversation with the Latin American Defense Organization.

The members talk with Studs about the day-to-day work they do for members of the Puerto Rican community, as well as their direct actions.  Chicago still has a growing and vibrant Puerto Rican community, and this program gives insight into its early accomplishments.  Check it out here: Talking With Puerto Rican Activists

Thanks for making 2017 such a great year for the archive!  We’re looking forward to more social justice, music, poetry, and history for next year and we hope you do too!

An archive intern listens to motivational records

This post was written by one of our description interns, Bithiah Brown.

Studs Terkel was a radio talk show host for forty-five years with over 5,000 interviews in various topics. These interviews are conducted with people in professions, such as civil rights activists, actors, musicians, journalists, writers, and so much more. Diversity selection is at its best with Mr. Terkel’s interviews. There is so much wisdom to be obtained by listening to these records. I became an Archive Description Intern since August 2017. As an archive intern, I have worked primarily with digital recordings from the Studs Terkel interview collection. In this collection, there is an enormous amount of recordings, that can be difficult for an intern to navigate and choose a record that may need revision. To help ease this stress, our supervisor and the archivist for the collection, Allison Schein, sends all interns an Excel spreadsheet that details the records that require editing.

But how do we choose and begin editing a record? During the introduction to the internship, we were given mandatory tools to use for our position, such as, an Excel spreadsheet, Slack program, and Starchive. Slack is a messaging application for team members. There are four channels used within Slack, such as; “general” for announcements, “intern” for any questions regarding work related tasks, “programs” for interns to announce their chosen records, and “random” for any non-work related topic. Starchive contains the wide range of records of the digitized radio programs from the beloved Studs Terkel.

Continue reading →

Talking With Puerto Rican Activists

Puerto Rican people started to come to Chicago in the 1930’s, and there is still a vibrant Puerto Rican culture here today.  According to a report prepared by Puerto Rican Agenda, most Puerto Ricans in Chicago live in Logan Square, Hermosa, Humboldt Park, Belmont, Cragin, West Town, Avondale, and Portage Park.  11% – 38% of residents in these areas are Puerto Rican.

As with many immigrant minorities, Puerto Ricans in Chicago have faced a language barrier, poverty, racism, and struggles with housing.  Following the lead of African-American civil rights activists, Puerto Rican community groups began forming to work for better conditions.  One of these groups was LADO: Latin American Defense Organization.  In 1969, five of their members joined Studs in the studio to talk about their mission and what they had accomplished so far.  These five were Obed López, Martha Sanchez, Daniel Meléndez, Olga Pedroza, and Georgina Novarra.

At the start of the program, Mr. López introduces LADO and tells Studs how it came about.  Mr. Meléndez talks about some of the difficulties faced by the Puerto Rican community in Chicago.

In this clip, Mr. López describes LADO as “an organization the people themselves have created,”  which he believes to be as important as anything the organization has specifically accomplished.  Mr. Meléndez goes on to talk about what was “left behind” in Puerto Rico, and also about the places he sees the city administration failing the Puerto Rican community.

According to the article written by Clara López, Obed’s daughter, LADO’s fourth principle of action was “in the absence of any mechanism to resolve our legitimate grievances, we believe in the right to direct action.”  In this clip, we hear about problems that Mrs. Sanchez had with the Welfare office, and the direct actions that were taken by LADO to help her.

Mr. López and Mrs. Novarra talk about the differences between life in Chicago and life in Puerto Rico.  Studs brings up the common invective, “go back where you came from,” which leads Mr. Meléndez talks about what motivates Puerto Ricans to come to Chicago.

It might surprise relative newcomers to Chicago to learn that Wicker Park, Noble Square, and Lincoln Park were once Puerto Rican communities.  Ms. Pedroza talks about the housing problems within the community, and tells about a successful rent strike.  Mr. Meléndez points out that another obstacle to finding good housing is racist rental practices, and cites his own mother’s experience as an example.

To learn more, check out the Puerto Rican Cultural Center here in Chicago. This report also provides a great deal of information on Puerto Ricans in Chicago. For more information on LADO, check out this article written by Clara López, Obed’s daughter.

Image Credit: By Darwinek [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

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