During the first half of the twentieth century in Chicago, if you wanted to hear wild, brilliant, outré, ideas, you went to Washington Square Park, across from the Newberry Library. That was where everyone from writers to revolutionaries to quacks stepped up on to soapboxes to debate and speechify before a crowd that often included a young Louis Terkel, better known as Studs. In the second half of the century Studs would create his own public forum, carrying on conversations with everyone from factory workers to film directors on his WFMT radio show, which ran for 45 years. And now, in the early twenty-first century, that legacy of sharing and discussing bold ideas is reborn with a new podcast, Bughouse Square with Eve Ewing, which launches Friday, October 5 and will continue to release new episodes the first Friday of each month.
The new program draws on the vast library of recordings in the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, recently digitized and opened to the public, with the idea that “voices from our shared past can teach us a few things about history and maybe make us learn some things about our own time,” as Ewing puts it in the show’s introduction. Archival interviews between Studs and extraordinary figures such as James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry are paired with Ewing’s own interviews and ruminations on the same themes in an effort to bring the insights of the past into the present.
Ewing, a multi-talented sociologist and writer, is the perfect companion to Studs. Like him, she’s a diehard Chicagoan, a talented conversationalist, and a wide-ranging thinker. Plus, as Katie Klocksin, the producer of Bughouse Square points out, Ewing is “an intellectual with a social justice orientation that she doesn’t try to hide, like Studs, though she’s too humble to describe herself that way.” And Ewing is a longtime admirer of Studs – her mom even had a mug with Studs’s face on it.
In Bughouse Square, Ewing carries on Studs’s legacy by both commenting on his interviews and continuing them in the present day with people in our own time. The first episode features Studs’s extraordinary 1962 interview with James Baldwin paired with a conversation between Ewing and the writer and activist Darnell Moore. Shel Silverstein, Lorraine Hansberry, and Younghill Kang are all on the docket for coming episodes, along with the contemporary figures author Adam Mansbach, professor Dr. Imani Perry, and novelist Min Jin Lee.
The immersion of the creators of Bughouse Square in Studs’s programs and voice is so deep that Klocksin has even begun dreaming about him: she, Ewing, and Studs all sit around a table, discussing programs for the podcast and ideas that come up. “It feels like a collaboration with him,” Klocksin says. Which is probably exactly what Studs would want: curious, sympathetic conversations, continuing across every boundary, even time.