Coming of Age Essay - Critical Essays

Coming of Age

Studs Terkel is the most prolific interviewer in America, and his earlier collections—such as HARD TIMES (1970) and WORKING (1974)—provide multiple insights into American life. Some of his best informants from those earlier collections reappear here, in a collection of seventy interviews with people over seventy—older Americans who talk about their history and their hopes for America.

One side of the composite picture is not pretty. Older Americans are hardly appreciated in this culture, particularly by corporate America, where youth and the bottom-line far outrank age and experience. Too often, these people of talent have been tossed away by institutions too large and impersonal to recognize what a valuable asset they had. Yet there is little bitterness. Rather, these are people who have accomplished a great deal in their working lives, and who are still contributing in their seventies, eighties, and nineties. Many of them are organizers and activists who believe in the importance of community and hold on to their version of the American Dream. Only a few are well known, but all of them are articulate and alive, and their wisdom and their passion fill the book. They interpret the century for readers, and they tell Terkel about the arts, education, health care, farming—every aspect of American life. Above all, they prove how much can be done in any area of life by people of principle who care about others. This may not be Terkel’s last book—he is only in his eighties, after all. Yet if it is, COMING OF AGE would be a fitting tribute to a man who has given Americans so many insights into their own lives and history.