Tag Archives: Harvey Shapiro

The Light Holds Harvey Shapiro

8 Jan

9780819560964_p0_v1_s260x420

I have just learned that Harvey Shapiro passed away yesterday.

Shapiro, whose first language was the endangered language of Yiddish, is the person who suggested Martin Luther King, Jr., compose a letter while he was in jail. The result was “Letters From Birmingham Jail,” which Shapiro wasn’t able to get published at The Times Magazine, where he was editor, but which was published by The Christian Century, among others.

Shapiro was a poet in his own right, crafting poems both witty and profound and oftentimes reflecting on life in New York City. Born in 1924 and obtaining his master’s degree in American literature from Columbia University in 1948, he was a contemporary of the Beats. He served in World War II and edited the volume Poets of World War II.

I had the good fortunate of hearing him speak at McNally Jackson Books two years ago. One of the big takeaways I had was that one must persevere in writing. Here was someone who even in his eighties was still engaged in the literary community and encouraging writers.

Advertisements

Writing Wednesday: The Shrinks Are Away

10 Aug

If you ever get a chance to take a writing class with Susan Shapiro, do it.  I took a Saturday personal-essay workshop with her last semester, and even though it only met twice I got so much out of it.  Unlike most of my classes, which have focused on the Art and Craft of writing, Shapiro understands that as much as we enjoy writing for writing’s sake, we also want to get published.  She gives helpful tips on how to do so, and even provides editorial contacts for newspapers, magazines, and print publications.  Talk about generous!

The Lighting Up author also puts together a reading series every August called The Shrinks Are Away.  When Susan Shapiro mentioned it to me in an email, I knew it would be too good to miss.

The lineup was impressive: Molly Jong-Fast (The Social Climber’s Handbook), David Goodwillie (American Subversive), Lindsay Harrison (Missing), and poet Harvey Shapiro (The Sights Along the Harbor). This is what serious literature looks like.  It reinvigorated my hope for the current state of literature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After all the writers had given a speedy reading, there were a few minutes left for Q&A.  I always love hearing writers talk about their process because their honesty is so encouraging.  I feel like in other industries there’s this unspoken rule of putting on a façade of perfectionism, but writers openly talk about their failed manuscripts, their false starts, their grappling with the industry.  The writers in The Shrinks Are Away reading opened up on how their books came to be.  Harrison revealed that she wrote about her mother’s passing not long after it happened, and that writing was part of the cathartic process.  Goodwillie talked about being part of a generation that doesn’t find its career callings until late 20s or early 30s, and that it was only after trying on a number of jobs—and getting fired from them—that he took writing seriously, renting a maid’s room at the Chelsea Hotel to spend a year working on his manuscript.  Harvey Shapiro, who worked for years and years at the New York Times, confessed that he’s seen that it’s not always the most talented writers who succeed—rather, it’s the ones with the most persistence.

The Shrinks Are Away event took place at McNally Jackson Books, a wonderful bookstore in Soho (52 Prince Street), where the literature section is broken up by country.  For upcoming events at McNally Jackson, click here.  To sign up for a class with Susan Shapiro, click here.