DECEMBER 8, 2014
WITH JAMES BALDWIN
One of the thrills of making the Studs Terkel Radio Archive available to the world is the chance to team up with artists, journalists, scholars and others in finding new places for the work to live.
Over the past year Studs’s work has made it’s way to Broadway, appeared on This American Life and All Things Considered thanks to a partnership with Radio Diaries and Project&; and all sorts of other places. The latest appearance of Studs’s work is a particularly important one for us. The marvelous small publisher Melville Houserecently featured a transcript of Studs’s 1961 interview with Baldwin (long one of my favorites for its raw descriptions of the state of race relations in the United States) in their new collection James Baldwin: The Last Interview and Other Conversations, part of a series of books on last interviews that Melville House has been publishing for several years. Previous people featured include Kurt Vonnegut, Hannah Arendt, Roberto Bolaño and Ray Bradbury.
Studs opens the conversation with Baldwin by playing a Bessie Smith recording; how that bit of blues gets Baldwin’s thoughts about identity and sense of place churning is fascinating. It’s a great example of how long form conversation on the radio can provoke ideas that rarely have the space to emerge in our media culture. Baldwin’s description of his experience listening to Bessie Smith records while writing his first novel as he’s living in Switzerland (surrounded by “white snow and white people”) has a vividness that hasn’t diminished in the 53 years since that interview was recorded. It’s a brilliant bit of radio.
The use of material from the Studs Terkel Radio Archive in novel contexts will continue in the coming year. We are working on a live theater event based on the archive as part of Chicago’s great experimental theater feast the Rhinoceros Festival in January, we aim to work with Blank on Blank to create more animations based on Studs’ interviews (you can see their take on Studs’s conversation with Maya Angelou here); and were teaming up with teens at Chicago Public Library‘s YOUMedia program and ChiArts, The Chicago High School for the Arts, to explore ways of using the Studs Terkel Radio Archive to create new audio documentaries and oral histories.
-Tony Macaluso, Archive Director
Photo Credit: “James baldwin” by MDCarchives – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_baldwin.jpg#mediaviewer/File:James_baldwin.jpg