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'Selected Shorts' host Isaiah Sheffer has died at 76

November 09, 2012|By Carolyn Kellogg
  • Isaiah Sheffer, artistic director of Symphony Space, with Executive Vice President Joanna Cossa at its 2002 reopening. Symphony Space announced on its website Friday that Sheffer, 76, has died.
Isaiah Sheffer, artistic director of Symphony Space, with Executive Vice… (Isaiah Sheffer )

Fans of literary radio broadcasts across America recognized the voice of Isaiah Sheffer, the founding artistic director of Symphony Space in New York. Sheffer hosted its program, "Selected Shorts," which broadcast on 130 public radio stations nationwide, reaching hundreds of thousands of listeners each week. On its website Friday, Symphony Space announced that Sheffer, 76, has died.

"Selected Shorts" began in 1985 as a stage performance. In the show, actors read short fiction; it's a great combination. Actors bring a degree of showmanship to the stories they read, but it is the stories and words that they focus on showing off.

That focus on the words made for great radio -- the live performances are taped and broadcast as selected shorts. Now, they are also available as podcasts.

"The first thing I usually hear from the actors, which makes it much easier for me to recruit other actors, is the receptiveness of the audience," Sheffer told The Times in 2001. He worked with each of the actors briefly before their performances. "Once we get someone, we usually don't have much trouble getting them again."

On the Symphony Space website, Sheffer's biography reads, "Isaiah Sheffer is co-founder and artistic director of Symphony Space and director and host of 'Selected Shorts' live and on radio. His radio, television, theatre, and film credits are extensive and include work as a commentator on the arts for WNYC’s weekly radio column Around New York; producer/writer for 'The Road to the White House,' a 20-minute public affairs series for NBC-TV (Emmy nomination); and writer/director, 'The Last Chapter,' award-winning historical documentary film on 1,000 years of Polish-Jewish history. Mr. Sheffer wrote the book and lyrics for the musicals 'Yiddle with a Fiddle' and 'The Rise of David Levinsky.' His latest play is 'Dreamers and Demons: The Three Worlds of Isaac Bashevis Singer.' " 

When "Selected Shorts" came to Los Angeles, it would present three shows in two days; a recent performance included Tim Curry and Leonard Nimoy. At that show, Sheffer also read a story -- a funny one by T.C. Boyle, which required him to do French accents.

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