Shapiro, Karl Jay, 1913-2000

Alternative names
Birth 1913-11-10
Death 2000-05-14

Biographical notes:

Poet, editor, and educator.

From the description of Karl Jay Shapiro papers, 1947-1964. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70979818

Pulitzer-Prize-winning American poet and author of more than forty volumes of poetry and criticism.

From the description of Papers. 1941-1967. (University of Maryland Libraries). WorldCat record id: 34091314

Karl Jay Shapiro was an American poet. He served in the Second World War in the South Pacific and New Guinea. A volume of his poetry was privately published in Australia. Kenneth Slessor was an Australian author, journalist and poet.

From the description of Letters to Kenneth Slessor, 1944-1945 [manuscript]. 1944-1945. (Libraries Australia). WorldCat record id: 225636198

Poet Karl Shapiro's award-winning early work, employing traditional poetic forms, emerged from his World War II experiences and explored both the war and the sense of detachment soldiers may feel about their lives during wartime. Ever the iconoclast, Shapiro championed the adventurous experimental styles of Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, and the Beats, incorporating their influence into his own maturing work. He also made contributions as an editor, professor, and critic, and published a strangely detached three-volume autobiography.

From the description of Karl Shapiro letter to Louis Untermeyer, 1963 April 3. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 55059402

Karl Shapiro (1913-2000) was a Baltimore-born American poet and essayist. He began writing while he was stationed in New Guinea during WWII. Shapiro was American Poet Laureate in 1946 and 1947. He published many famous works, and taught at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and University of California, Davis. He edited the prestigious Poet Magazine and was married three times.

From the guide to the Typescript "Construction", April, 1962, (Ohio University)

Biographical Note

  • 1913, Nov. 10: Born, Baltimore, Md.
  • 1937 - 1939 : Attended Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.
  • 1941 - 1945 : Served in the United States Army
  • 1942: Published Person, Place and Thing. [New York]: Reynal & Hitchcock Published The Place of Love. [Malvern, Australia: Bradley Printers] Awarded Jeanette S. Davis Prize
  • 1943: Awarded Levinson Prize Awarded Contemporary Poetry Prize
  • 1944: Published V-Letter and Other Poems. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock
  • 1945: Awarded Pulitzer Prize in poetry Awarded Shelley Memorial Prize Married Evalyn Katz (divorced 1967)
  • 1945 - 1946 : Awarded Guggenheim fellowship
  • 1946 - 1947 : Consultant in poetry, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  • 1947 - 1950 : Associate professor of writing, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.
  • 1950 - 1956 : Editor, Poetry Magazine
  • 1953: Published Poems, 1940-1953. New York: Random House Published Beyond Criticism. [Lincoln]: University of Nebraska Press
  • 1953 - 1954 : Awarded Guggenheim fellowship
  • 1956 - 1966 : Professor of English, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebr.
  • 1958: Published Poems of a Jew. New York: Random House
  • 1960: Published In Defense of Ignorance. New York: Random House
  • 1964: Published The Bourgeois Poet. New York: Random House
  • 1965: Published A Prosody Handbook, with Robert Beum. New York: Harper & Row
  • 1966 - 1968 : Professor of English, University of Illinois, Chicago, Ill.
  • 1967: Married Teri Kovach (died 1982)
  • 1968: Published To Abolish Children. Chicago: Quadrangle Books
  • 1968 - 1985 : Professor of English, University of California, Davis, Calif.
  • 1969: Awarded Bollingen Prize for poetry
  • 1975: Published The Poetry Wreck, Selected Essays, 1950-1970. New York: Random House
  • 1978: Published Collected Poems, 1940-1978. New York: Random House
  • 1985: Married Sophie Wilkins
  • 1987: Published New and Selected Poems, 1940-1986. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  • 1989: Robert Kirsch award, Los Angeles Times
  • 2000, May 14: Died, New York, N.Y.

From the guide to the Karl Jay Shapiro Papers, 1947-1964, (Manuscript Division Library of Congress)

Karl Shapiro (1913-2000), Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet, is the author of more than forty volumes of poetry and criticism. Poems, his first volume, was privately published in 1935. While serving in Australia and New Guinea from 1942 to 1945, Shapiro wrote his V-Letter and Other Poems, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, as well as The Place of Love, which was published in Australia. His introduction to a wider audience came with the inclusion of his poems in Five Young American Poets in 1941. Influenced by W. H. Auden and William Carlos Williams, Shapiro produced poetry satirical of modern life, which was often experimental and never predictable.

Karl Shapiro was born Carl Shapiro in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 10, 1913, the son of Sara Omansky and businessman Joseph Shapiro. The Shapiro family moved from Baltimore to near Norfolk, Virginia, when Karl was in elementary school, then returned to Baltimore when Karl was in high school. His elder brother, Irvin, was an excellent student and earned a scholarship to the University of Virginia, where he wrote poetry. Karl Shapiro admired his older brother greatly and, following in his brother's footsteps, attended the University of Virginia in 1932. However, he stayed only a year before returning to Baltimore. In 1937, he resumed his studies at the Johns Hopkins University, where he remained until 1939. In 1940, a year after leaving Johns Hopkins, Shapiro attended the Enoch Pratt Free Library School, before being drafted into military service in 1941.

Throughout his years in the military, Shapiro continually wrote poetry. As company clerk, Shapiro had access to a typewriter, which he used to type letters and poems. Although Shapiro continued to write his poetry during this period, he was unable to contact publishers and editors and relied upon his fiancée, Evalyn Katz, to act as his literary agent.

Evalyn Katz and Karl Shapiro met shortly before Shapiro was drafted, and they eventually became engaged to be married. They began corresponding almost daily after his departure for Camp Lee, Virginia. From the outset, Evalyn was interested in Shapiro's poetry, and much of their correspondence concerns his poetry and her attempts to market it. In 1942, she moved to New York to act as Shapiro's literary agent. Her efforts resulted in the publication of Person, Place and Thing in 1942, V-Letter and Other Poems in 1944, and Essay on Rime in 1945.

A large portion of Shapiro's correspondence with Evalyn was through United States V-mail. V-mail was a method by which mail was sent to overseas military outposts during World War II. It was developed to reduce the weight and volume of armed forces correspondence to and from the United States. However, V-mail, like other wartime correspondence, was subject to censorship. V-letter forms, 8.5-by-11-inch sheets that were folded to form envelopes, were available at no cost in post offices in the United States and widely distributed to soldiers stationed abroad. After being censored, V-letters were microfilmed onto sixteen millimeter film. These films were shipped to central processing facilities in the United States and abroad where 4.25-by-5-inch facsimiles were printed. The V-letters exchanged between Shapiro and Evalyn consist of such facsimiles.

Aside from V-letters, Shapiro's nearly daily correspondence with Evalyn during the war also included letters sent by regular mail and telegrams. All of their correspondence was read by the army and subject to censorship, as Shapiro explains in Poet: An Autobiography in Three Parts, Volume I: The Younger Son:

His letters contained poems which he was sending to his girlfriend in Baltimore, later in New York, where she moved to try to get them published in magazines and even in book form, both of which she succeeded in doing. His letters were read quite carefully, not for their literary value but because poems are by nature ambiguous and mysterious to say the least. So eventually as the war went on his letters were not only read by the officer-doctor assigned to censor but by departments higher up, and in the poet's case all the way up to MacArthur's headquarters.

He discovered this after the war when he looked at his girlfriend's letters from him, now that she was his wife, and they were sometimes cut to ribbons with deletions, and carried the big stamp of the Southwest Pacific Area, for as the war matured he was read more carefully. (136)

These letters, largely about his poetry and about their relationship, form the bulk of this collection.

A fourth World-War-II book, The Place of Love, was published in Australia by Cecily Crozier, with whom Shapiro had an affair, in 1942. Shapiro explained the book's genesis in Lee Bartlett's Karl Shapiro: A Descriptive Bibliography 1933-1977 :

I was in the army stationed in Australia, which is where I saw Cecily Crozier's magazine A Comment in a bookstore. I though it was interesting, so I got in touch with her and we became good friends. Later, we decided to put the book together. Some of it came from the letters I wrote her. We lost touch during the later war years, and I never was able to find out what happened to her or the books. (8)

Although Shapiro explored the idea of publishing this body of work, Evalyn did not support it. Only a few of the poems from that book have ever been published in the United States.

During the course of the war, Shapiro and Evalyn investigated being married by proxy so that Shapiro could send money to her. However, the state of New York did not acknowledge marriages by proxy, and Shapiro discovered he could legally send his money to her without marriage. The couple married on March 16, 1945, after Shapiro returned from the Pacific. They had three children, Katharine, John "Jake" Jacob, and Elizabeth.

Following the war, Shapiro served as the Poetry Consultant at the Library of Congress until 1948, when he was appointed a professor of writing at the Johns Hopkins University, where he taught until 1950. For the next six years, he edited the journal Poetry in Chicago. Shapiro returned to academic life in 1956, teaching at the University of Nebraska, the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, and the University of California at Davis. In 1967, while teaching at the University of Illinois, he and Evalyn divorced, and he married Teri Kovach Baldwin. The following year, he began teaching at the University of California at Davis, where he remained until his retirement in the mid-1980s. His second wife died in 1982; he married the translator Sophie Wilkins in 1985. Granted the rank of professor emeritus by the University of California at Davis, Shapiro resided in that city where he continued to write poetry and criticism in retirement. He returned to the eastern United States in 1994 and lived on New York City's Upper West Side until his death on May 14, 2000.

From the guide to the Karl Shapiro papers, ca. 1917-1968, null, (Literature and Rare Books)


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