A life without love in it is like a heap of ashes upon a deserted hearth, with the fire dead, the laughter stilled and the light extinguished.Frank Tebbets
- Something was still there, that something that distinguishes an artist from a performer: the revealing of self. Here I be. Not for long, but here I be. In sensing her mortality, we sensed our own.
- On seeing a 1956 performance by Billie Holiday, Talking to Myself Bk. 4 (1977) Ch. 4
- At a time when pimpery, lick-spittlery, and picking the public's pocket are the order of the day — indeed, officially proclaimed as virtue — the poet must play the madcap to keep his balance. And ours.
- On Nelson Algren, Talking to Myself Bk. 4 (1977)
- Chicago is not the most corrupt American city, it's the most theatrically corrupt.
- The Dick Cavett Show (9 June 1978)
- I was born in the year the Titanic sank. The Titanic went down, and I came up. That tells you a little about the fairness of life.
- Regarding his 95th birthday Give 'Em Hell, Mr. Terkel
The Guardian interview (2002)
- Online interview: "Voice of America" by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian (1 March 2002)
- I'm celebrated for celebrating the uncelebrated.
- For the first book, I interviewed one mother of four little kids, skinny, pretty, bad teeth — meaning no dental care — and the kids are jumping around, 'cause they want to hear their mamma's voice played back... and so I play it back, and she listens to what she said on the tape and she says, 'Oh my God,' she says. ' I never knew I felt that way before' ... That's pretty hot stuff, isn't it? That's hot stuff. That's the stuff.
- A man comes from New York. He says, "These petitions, your name is on all of them: anti-poll tax, anti-lynching, friendship with the Soviet Union.... don't you know the communists were behind them?" And he said, "Look, you can get out of this pretty easy. All you got to do is say the communists duped you. You were dumb. You didn't mean it." I said, "But I did mean it!" To this day people say, "Oh, Studs, you were so heroic." Heroic? I was scared shitless! But my ego was at stake. My vanity. "Whaddya mean, I'm dumb?"
- Explaining how was blacklisted in 1953
- You know, "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely"? It's the same with powerlessness. Absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely. Einstein said everything had changed since the atom was split, except the way we think. We have to think anew.
- I like quoting Einstein. Know why? Because nobody dares contradict you.
- Think of what's stored in an 80- or a 90-year-old mind. Just marvel at it. You've got to get out this information, this knowledge, because you've got something to pass on. There'll be nobody like you ever again. Make the most of every molecule you've got as long as you've got a second to go. That's your charge.
- David R. Brower, in an interview with Terkel, but much of it is sometimes misattributed to Terkel himself.
Quotes about Terkel
- Terkel has built a career on the hunch that pretty much everyone might be worth trying to talk to: the rich and famous, certainly, and burglars and murderers and Ku Klux Klansmen — but most of all the teeming, unexamined mass of American life in between. Armed with a tape recorder, he has interviewed hundreds of people, producing a series of books that tell the story of the American century verbatim, and from the ground up: day-labourers, poor farmers and gangsters for Hard Times, his book about the Depression; everyone from steelworkers to hookers for Working, about the realities of employment in America; and his Pulitzer Prize-winning chronicle of the second world war, The Good War. They are the sound of a nation spontaneously unburdening itself to the first person who had thought to ask.
- Oliver Burkeman ,in "Voice of America" ~ The Guardian (1 March 2002)
- Redemption, he says: that's what this book and all the others are really about. His favourite interview was with CP Ellis, a former Ku Klux Klan leader who ended up fighting for the union rights of black janitors alongside his partner, an African-American woman. "Anybody can be redeemed. I've seen it."
- Oliver Burkeman , on Terkel's views about Will the Circle be Unbroken? and his other books, in "Voice of America" ~ The Guardian (1 March 2002)]