I've been thinking about Anthony Shadid recently. I didn't know the man. He was a journalist whose work I sought out over the years, something that became easier to do when he left the Washington Post for the New York Times. I had a copy of his most recent book, Night Draws Near, sitting in a pile in my bedroom. I had actually written him a letter - a real letter, in ink, on paper. I was going to be studying in the region this summer and was hoping to spend a few more weeks in the region and was curious whether it might be possible to visit the Times bureau in Beirut and talk with him about the challenges he faced, advice he had for those interested in writing about the region, and gain some self-confidence by speaking with a man who never learned Arabic until an adult and demonstrate that it is possible to master the language. I was going to send the letter despite the fact that Shadid didn't seem to have much time to hang out in Beirut chatting with would-be journalists, but one never knows. (We won't even get into how my parents would have responded to plans to visit Lebanon - I would have told them afterwards)
What I liked about Shadid's writing - and this has been expressed by so many others - is his interest in people and stories and his concerns for the larger historical narrative. What I enjoy about journalism is talking with people. It's the voices of people and how they talk about things. About how their stories can be related to other, larger events. He found such poetry in how ordinary people speak and what they have to say, and I love that because so rarely do such voices get heard. He spent years in the Middle East and would have spend many more there.
I was struck by Steve Coll's thoughts about Shadid and his clear-eyed vision of what he wanted to do and the manner he wanted to go about it. We could use more great writers, but even more than that, we need more kind listeners.