Isaiah Sheffer, 1935-2012
As some of you may have heard, the host of Selected Shorts, Mr. Isaiah Sheffer, has passed away. I first met Isaiah about two years ago, but even before I walked into the studios at WNYC I felt like I already knew him–I’d been listening to his voice on Selected Shorts since I was a teenager. Later, after college—when I was holding down three jobs, working seven days a week, saving money and dreaming of moving to New York and becoming a writer—the program, and Isaiah, became even more important to me. Selected Shorts played on Saturdays, during the hour it took me to drive from one job, in a bookstore, to another job, waiting tables all night. My arms would be tired from lugging boxes of books, my hands covered with paper-cuts, and the last thing I wanted to do was work for another eight hours. Then Isaiah’s voice would come over the car radio, and it felt like a dear friend was keeping me company, and giving me what I needed to carry on: reminding me of the magic and the joy of sharing great short stories. I learned about so many writers for the first time by hearing them on Selected Shorts, and the next day I’d find their collections and novels in the bookstore and start reading the rest of their work. I looked forward to hearing Selected Shorts all week, and even though I lived far away and was only a listener, I felt like I was a part of a community. Years later, when Isaiah and Kathy Minton took me out to lunch and asked me to join the team at Selected Shorts, I couldn’t believe my luck. To be a part of this program, which had been so formative and such an inspiration to me, felt like an incredible honor. I was very nervous, and unsure of myself the first time I walked into the studio, but Isaiah, like the generous director and performer he was on stage, took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. He made it look easy—and was patient, even as I flubbed my lines. I was quickly dubbed his “sidekick,” the Assistant to Isaiah’s Magician. Every few weeks we’d meet at WNYC and talk about stories—but most of all—we had fun. Isaiah was full of energy, and would launch into songs, or quips from old movies, or tell a joke and have everyone laughing. Over the past few days, I’ve heard many heart-warming tales from Isaiah’s friends and family and fans, reminding me of all the things about him that were so special: the way he could bring a room to life just by walking into it, the way he put people at ease, and how he always made everyone feel included and a part of things. Isaiah was a true artist and performer, a hero of the short story and the upper west side—devoted to his wife and daughter as well as his “other family” at Symphony Space. I’m so grateful for the twists of fate that led me from that rusty old car in Massachusetts to being across the desk from Isaiah at WNYC. He was a teacher, a mentor, and most of all: a friend. I am going to miss him terribly. Last spring, we performed a duet together on stage at Symphony Space. George & Ira Gershwin’s “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” I’m never going to hear that song again without thinking of Isaiah singing.