Blog Article

2007 Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award Reception Speech

Park Forest
[ deep/south Cook
nestled beside good/Willeast of legacy<
west of morning dew ]

Blown by the winds of a wish,
Is destiny, desired

And liberated leaves hover wittily,
Unto an earth,
So graciously rising to greet them,

Graceful lovers,

This park, this forest, remembers
This tree, yet another grows,
And your dream knows,

The wind, east!

Is the rising sun:
Hope’s commitment,
Faith’s compassion,

Blest/be yes/ter/day sun/set in west,

As a gentle breeze blows…

A calling

Your calling

Thanks to the nomination by the Honorable John A. Ostenburg, the Mayor of the Village of Park Forest, I stand before for you, a proud member of the 2006 Class of the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award. And I represent a community so dedicated to the Humanities and the Arts. If you care to visit, you shall find her deep/southCook, nestled beside good/Will, just east of legacy, and west of morning dew.

In a full-circle kind of way, there are no accidents. Several years ago, I had the fortune of meeting Studs Terkel at his book-signing for the release of his book entitled, Race, How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel about the American Obsession. After conversing with me as if an old friend, he autographed my copy. He simply yet profoundly wrote: To Joseph Woods, Justice! Imagine, one word – crying out to be reckoned with. In the words of Gwendolyn Brooks: “What else is there to say, but everything.” You see, Mr. Terkel had proven once again that there can be excellence in brevity…with an exclamation point.

I found him to be one of those extraordinary ordinary men. A man who without apology dares to talk about it. Hence, I am humbled and honored to be forever linked to an award which bears his name. As I continue to evolve as a writer, I become evermore certain that artistic and literary expression is indeed a noble pursuit. For this journey has brought me here to meet you, my fellow recipients.

We are connected. We are connected because we know that a life without the Humanities is a life bland of seasoning…an existential appetite un-whetted. We are connected. We are connected by that confining finite question we know all too well: “Yeah, but what is your ‘real job’?” We are connected because we have intentionally considered that our “real jobs” could possibly be those pursuits that benefit humanity in ways not demanded of us, but in ways dearly required of us. Yes, we are intrinsically connected because we know, as Maya Angelou discovered, that “making a living is not the same thing as making a life.”

Indeed, today is a celebration of your passion, your ethical and creative genius to simply enlighten others. Your work is on purpose, deliberate, and passionately subjective. And despite the intensely personal quality of your work, it is in its deepest sense, a collaboration. For you are keenly and soulfully aware that the seeds you sow emanate from those who have come before you and those who will grow because of you.

You are pioneers, theorists, activists, creators of ideas and rhymes. Preservers of history.

You are “cultivators of peace and harmony”, weavers of culture, connectors.

You know as Matthew Arnold knew:

That “the whole scope of the essay is to recommend culture
as the great help out of our present difficulties;
culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know,
on all the matters which most concern us,
the best which has been thought and said in the world.”

We are needed now more than ever. For new and familiar guests alike have impolitely come calling without invitation: racial, legal, political, philosophical, technological, environmental, and otherwise material. It seems they “drop by” when we are not looking our best and not expecting company.

Congratulations to each and every one of you. May we continue to do the good work… with an exclamation point!