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Karl Shapiro papers

 Collection 0035-LIT

Karl Shapiro (1913-2000) was an American poet and literary critic who was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He was strongly influenced by the works of W. H. Auden, Walt Whitman, and William Carlos Williams. His work has been recognized with a number of major awards, including the Pulitzer prize for V-Letter and Other Poems in 1945; he later became consultant in poetry at the Library of Congress. He also published a novel, an autobiography, and poetry anthologies. Shapiro taught at many universities, including Johns Hopkins University, University of Nebraska, University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, and University of California, Davis. His papers consist of correspondence, manuscripts of poems, and photographs and are mostly from 1941 to 1944.


  • circa 1917-1968

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


1.00 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The papers of Karl Shapiro, which cover the period 1941 to 1967, consist mainly of correspondence and poetry sent by Shapiro to Evalyn Katz Shapiro before and after their marriage. The collection also contains letters and telegrams to Shapiro's children, Evalyn's mother, Bessie, Philip Delnegro of Baltimore, Allen Tate, and Shapiro's brother, Irvin. Major topics of Shapiro's correspondence include discussions of his writing and family and personal affairs. The poems are composed primarily of manuscripts sent to Evalyn during Shapiro's military service in Australia and New Guinea. The collection also contains photographs of the Shapiro family, Karl Shapiro, and his siblings, mother, wife, and children.


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 magazineA 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.


This collection has been organized into three series.

Series 1
Series 2
Series 3

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The papers of Karl Shapiro were purchased by the University of Maryland at College Park Libraries in March 1988.

Related Material

The Library of Congress holds significant related Shapiro correspondence, teaching materials, and papers. The Karl Jay Shapiro Papers, 1939-1968, are composed of correspondence, drafts of poems, books, and articles. The Charles E. Feinberg Collection contains two separate groups with Shapiro correspondence: the John Ciardi manuscripts and Karl Jay Shapiro collection. The Melvin Beaunorus Tolson Collection contains Shapiro correspondence as well.

Additional Shapiro correspondence is included among the Isabella Garder Papers and the Howard Nemerov Papers, Washington University at St. Louis Libraries; the Louis Decimus Rubin Papers, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the William Price Albrecht Collection, University of Kansas Libraries' Special Collections; the George Dillon Papers, Syracuse University's University Library; the Robert Lowell Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University; and the Edmund Skellings Papers, Florida International University Library.

Processing Information

Before processing, the collection had been arranged by format and genre. This organization has been roughly maintained. All of the correspondence: telegrams, V-letters, letters, and postcards, has been interfiled and arranged chronologically. Poems have been arranged alphabetically by title. Metal paper clips and staples have been replaced with plastic clips. Telegrams were interleaved with acid-free paper, and photographs were placed in protective Mylar sleeves. The correspondence and poetry have been placed in acid-free folders and acid-free boxes.

Guide to the Karl Shapiro papers
Jordan E. Landes
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742