Tag Archives: Letters From Birmingham Jail

The Light Holds Harvey Shapiro

8 Jan

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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.