Alan Shapiro Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Alan Shapiro was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 18, 1952, the son of Harold Shapiro and Marilyn Shapiro. Many of his poems portray his extended Jewish American family, whose presence informed his early life with their rich tangle of rivalry, jealousy, love, and devotion. He has described himself as a baby-boom child of the middle class. His undergraduate work was done at Brandeis University, where he began to write poetry seriously while studying under the stringent gaze of Cunningham and Galway Kinnell.

Shapiro has followed an academic career, teaching creative writing at Northwestern University, Evanston; the University of North Carolina, Greensboro; and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he became the William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor of English and creative writing in 2002. In In Praise of the Impure, Shapiro records an experience from early in his teaching career when a talented student who seemed to read poetry with an unusually deep level of understanding succumbed to cancer. She seemed to use her understanding of poetry to interpret her mortality, a gift that poetry can offer all its readers. The 1995 death of Shapiro’s older sister, Beth, from cancer, and the death of his older brother, David, in 2000, have led him to similar insights, as his memoir Vigil attests.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alan Shapiro was born in 1952 of Jewish parents, and being Jewish has played a large part in his development as a writer and a poet. He found himself both appreciating and despising his Jewish heritage, wanting to escape from it at the same time that he saw his life thoroughly formed by it. From his earliest years he wanted to be a poet, finally informing his parents of his decision while he was in college.

One of the most significant periods of his life was his sojourn in Ireland during his college years. He knew that Ireland was a country that honored storytellers and poets, and he thrived on being in such a place. There he met and married an Irish Catholic woman, Carol Ann, to the surprise of his parents, who eventually accepted her. Still, the marriage was brief. Shapiro received a scholarship to Stanford University in California, and the transition proved disastrous to the marriage. In 1984 he remarried, this time to Della, a Jewish woman; their marriage endured for sixteen years before it, too, ended in divorce.

Shapiro found a way to make use of his poetry to examine his life and his experiences. His first book, After the Digging, appeared in 1981. The influence of Shapiro’s years in Ireland is evident in this book, as it deals with the potato famine, which devastated Ireland in the nineteenth century and which exists today in the minds and collective memories of the Irish. His next book, The Courtesy, dealt with the Puritans in seventeenth century America.

Shapiro was named a fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1984 and a Guggenheim Fellow in 1986. His book Happy Hour was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1987. In 1991 Shapiro won the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award. Later Mixed Company won the 1996 Los Angeles Times award for poetry and was nominated for...

(The entire section is 774 words.)