For his oral histories, Terkel interviewed his subjects on tape, then transcribed and sifted. ''What first comes out of an interview are tons of ore; you have to get that gold dust in your hands,'' he wrote in his memoir. ''Now, how does it become a necklace or a ring or a gold watch? You have to get the form; you have to mold the gold dust.''
He never practiced law. Instead, he took a job in a federally sponsored statistical project with the Federal Emergency Rehabilitation Administration, one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal'' agencies. Then he found a spot in a writers project with the Works Progress Administration, writing plays and developing his acting skills.