Harvey Shapiro

(1924 - 2013)

Biography of Harvey Shapiro

Harvey Shapiro poet

Harvey Shapiro (January 27, 1924 – January 7, 2013) was an American poet and editor of The New York Times. He wrote a dozen books of poetry from 1953 to 2006, writing in epigrammatic style about things in his everyday life. As an editor, he was always affiliated with The New York Times in some capacity, mainly in the magazine and book reviews, from 1957 to 2005.

Early life and the war

Harvey Irwin Shapiro was born in Chicago on January 27, 1924 into a Jewish family from Kiev. He spoke Yiddish. When he was a boy, his family moved to Manhattan and later to Long Island. He studied at Yale University but joined the Army Air Forces when World War II broke out. He flew 35 combat missions over Europe as a B-17 tail gunner and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He returned to Yale to earn a bachelor's degree in English in 1947 and a master's degree in American literature from Columbia University in 1948.

Newspaper career

Shapiro spent the first half of the 1950s teaching English at Cornell University and Bard College. He then became an assistant editor at Commentary magazine and was the poetry editor at The Village Voice and a fiction editor at The New Yorker before joining The New York Times in 1957. He worked in various editorial positions there—The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review from 1975 to 1983 and deputy editor of the magazine. Perhaps the most notable non-achievement at The New York Times was in 1962 when he had read that civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been put in jail. He phoned Dr. King's foundation, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and suggested that, the next time King was put in jail, he should compose a letter to publish. This letter became the Letter from Birmingham Jail, after Dr. King was arrested for the Birmingham campaign in April 1963. Shapiro's superiors would not allow him to print Dr. King's letter in The New York Times, but the letter was printed elsewhere 50 times in 325 editions, including Dr. King's own book Why We Can't Wait.


Shapiro continued to write poetry while working as an editor, publishing a dozen books, such as The Eye (1953), The Light Holds (1984) and National Cold Storage Company (1988). He also edited an anthology entitled Poets of World War II. His poetry often displayed a subtle sense of humor.

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Drunk and weeping. It's another night
at the live-in opera, and I figure
it's going to turn out badly for me.
The dead next door accept their salutations,
their salted notes, the drawn-out wailing.
It's we the living who must run for cover,
meaning me. Mortality's the ABC of it,
and after that comes lechery and lying.
And, oh, how to piece together a life

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