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JOSEPH J. SHATTAN, 1950 – 2014
For 7 months, I worked alongside Joseph J. Shattan as one of the Heritage Foundation’s 3 Major Gifts Writers. Perhaps because he was Brooklyn & I was South Yonkers and we were close in age, we hit it off right away – same sense of humor, same love of crafting language ourselves and of reading others’ well wrought prose – same challenge of making a living doing work we loved.
Joe was utterly unpretentious, a quality seemingly outlawed in D.C. While others power-lunched at restaurants, we’d go to the Subway’s next door to Heritage, get the sandwich/chips/drink special, and head up to Heritage’s typically deserted roof, a finished area where functions are held in nice weather. We’d grab some chairs, plunk ourselves down, and as we gazed across the city, we’d trade stories about the strange directions our writing lives had taken.
Our last lunch was on an unusually chilly day. In the cold drizzle, we ate our sandwiches and kibitzed, until the drizzle turned to rain and drove us in. But it was, as always, a wonderful lunch: Joe’s wisdom and humor always put the minor, irksome aspects of a writer’s life in perspective.
After I left Heritage, we stayed in touch. I’m a former English professor married to a nonfiction book author. With over 10,000 lbs. of books, we finally decided it was time to purge (just how many copies of the Nicomachean Ethics does one household need?) I mentioned this to Joe and reassured him we weren’t letting go of his book. I wrote:
One of the books that is permanently on my shelf is ARCHITECTS OF VICTORY. . . It may amuse you that your place on my shelf is between my Roman missal and the Book of Common Prayer. If you find yourself with a sudden desire to stock up on rosary beads and incense, well, now you know why.
Here’s Joe’s response:
Jaine and I enjoy the mixed blessing of living next to a library that has a used book room. Over the years, I have bought a great many books at bargain prices, but I never seem to get around to reading them. Even on weekends, if the sun is shining and the birds are chirping, the last thing I feel like doing is sitting at home reading Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate, or Leon Edel’s Henry James. Somebody once said, “I try to be a philosopher, but laughter keeps breaking through.” In my case, I try to be a serious intellectual, but the sunlight is far too distracting.
That Architects of Victory survived your purge pleases me more than I can say. For all I know, future scholars may discover that everything I wrote is wrong, but it still occupies a warm spot in my heart. I suppose Indian warriors must have felt the same way about their first scalp.
Thank you for writing, for saving my book, and for placing it in such a strategic position.
God bless you, my friend. Here’s to sandwiches and chips some future day in Heaven