Monthly Archives: March 2013

A Lesson in Listening for Novelists

A Talent for Listening

Be A NovelistI only recently procured a copy of Working by Studs Terkel for my library. Going through it is like a veritable smorgasbord of stories from all across the country of ordinary people talking about what they do every day. What a goldmine for a novelist.

While I had heard of Studs Terkel (1912-2008) for many years, I had not fully appreciated his love for people, nor his talent of listening. In his teen years, his parents ran a boarding house in Chicago where Studs (real name Louis) was treated to a panorama of diverse characters, all of whom sat around telling their stories day after day. (No television to distract.)

Also located in his neighborhood was the famed Bughouse Square (nickname for Washington Square), a park where soapbox orators included artists, writers, political radicals, and hobos, all of whom lectured, recited poetry, ranted, and raved.

Forty-Five Years of Listening

Studs Terkel learned how to listen. And not only to listen but to truly hear.  His radio program, The Studs Terkel Program, aired on 98.7 WFMT Chicago between 1952 and Be A Novelist1997.The one-hour program was broadcast each weekday during those forty-five years. His love of humanity is what kept the show on the air as he interviewed people from all walks of life.

Gary T. Johnson, president of the Chicago History Museum where the recordings of these interviews are now stored, had this to say about Studs Terkel: “He believed that everyone had the right to be heard and had something important to say. He was there to listen, to chronicle, and to make sure their stories are remembered.”

Terkel also authored the book They All Sang wherein he interviewed musicians hailing from all forms of music ranging from classical opera to jazz, blues, gospel, folk, and rock.  Again, it is classic Terkel knowing how to listen and how to capture the heart and the heartbeat of the individual.

A Strong Heart

Studs Terkel lived to be just a few years short of 100.  He died in 2008 at the age of 96. In 2005 he had open-heart surgery and was one of the oldest persons ever to undergo such a procedure. The medical professionals were amazed at his quick recovery.

Perhaps it’s because he had such an amazing heart for people that his heart was so strong!

Striving to Emulate

In my own work as a novelist and ghostwriter, I too have had the opportunity to conduct many interviews. I’m amazed at how much I learn from listening.  The more I listen to people, the more resources I have to draw upon when I am formulating characters as a novelist.  

As I have read through and savored my copy of Working, I have grown in my deep appreciation of Terkel’s amazing talent for listening.

I want to be able to do the same. Perhaps not on the same level, but I aspire to emulate this amazing lover of humanity. I believe my novel writing will improve because of it.

Next on my book-buying list is They All Sang.

Be A Novelist