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Believing in angels


Studs Terkel
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Studs Terkel was someone whom I read for decades, I think, before I met him, especially his book, his early book, Working. Studs really invented oral history, in a way, I mean what we are doing at the moment is a Studs Terkel-like activity, although of course... no, not quite, because here I am doing more or less a monologue with a little printing, whereas Studs… Studs was as ebullient as Richard Gregory in his way. He was so... so imaginative, he was interested in everything. I... I did many radio shows with him, and I think Jonathan did many radio shows. He... he knew, or he was known by, I think, everyone in Chicago. He and Bellow may have been there, and Saul Bellow may have been there in their young days. Bellow moved, Studs didn’t. I don’t know whether he spent 80 years or whatever in Chicago; he certainly became an institution. Everyone recognised him, I think everyone... everyone loved him.

He was very… a very bold figure on... on the left, and was not taken in by any double talk or... or political contriving. He… and I think he was... he was a pretty good writer himself. In his mid 90s he... he wrote beautifully about hope, and he seemed to me, at that point, to exemplify that a full human life was still possible in the mid 90s and after losing one’s... one's wife of 60 or 70 years. He became very, very deaf, but he wore hearing aids, but... but he would come right up to one. His deafness caused a sort of, intimacy; it made one physically very, very close to him. I loved Studs, and I think he was a very important figure indeed, because he gave voice to so many others who didn’t have a voice, and to give voice to others is... is something of vital, vital importance.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Chicago, Chicago University, Studs Terkel, Richard Gregory, Saul Bellow, Jonathan Miller

Duration: 2 minutes, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012