As a writing teacher, I want my kids to know that there are many reasons we write, just as there are many types of writing we need to figure out how to do, and do well. We write for pleasure, we write to tell stories, we write to inform, and we write to persuade…but this Sunday’s New York Times made me think about another reason we write: to bear witness. Several weeks ago, the Times’ chief Middle East correspondent Anthony Shadid died during a daring mission to cross the border into Syria and report on the latest of the revolutions that began with the Arab Spring
. Shadid was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who had covered the Middle East for many years, and his incisive writing was always a pleasure to read.
I remember many times thinking to myself even as I was reading about far-off events in Baghdad and Ramallah – he must have put himself in real danger to be able to tell this story. And so it was when I read that he had been captured and gone missing in Libya, I assumed the worst…but Shadid escaped and lived to write about his experiences, which he later talked about on NPR’s Fresh Air:
In just about every photograph I’ve seen of Shadid, he has a notebook in his hand – he is often surrounded by people, and they seem just as eager to tell him their stories, as he is to record what they say. He carried his form of a writer’s notebook everywhere, and his writing speaks to the fact that he sketched out more than just facts – his articles are alive with a sense of place and the personalities and feelings of all those he came across:
Today’s article was written by the photographer who partnered with Shadid on most of his reporting, Tyler Hicks. Apart from being a journalistic account of the events during which Shadid died, it is also a testament to those writers among us who write to bear witness – to tell us of events we need to know, about how people are affected by those events, about why we need to pay attention.
Anthony Shadid leaves behind a wife and two young children; the memoir “House of Stone”, which he completed just before his death is to be released soon. I look forward to receiving my copy, and being able to take pleasure in his writing once again.