Obituary Note: David Shapiro

David Shapiro, a poet and art historian "who was widely admired for his erudition and indelibly remembered--to his chagrin--as the defiant, cigar-wielding student in a photo that was taken during the 1968 uprising at Columbia University and came to represent the era's revolutionary zeal," died May 4, the Washington Post reported. He was 77.

"To Americans who sympathized with antiwar demonstrators at Columbia and on campuses across the country, Dr. Shapiro became a symbol of their dauntless spirit," the Post wrote. "To those who regarded the student occupiers as vandals, he embodied a descent into disorder. Dr. Shapiro recognized himself in neither version."

Thomas Fink, a professor at LaGuardia Community College in New York who has written a book about Shapiro's poetry, noted that the photo was only a "sound bite" in his life, but it forever followed him as he pursued a long academic and literary career.

Shapiro taught English at Columbia in the 1970s before moving in 1981 to William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., where he was a professor of art history until his retirement seven years ago. His first book of poetry, January, was published the year he turned 18; his final collection, In Memory of an Angel, appeared in 2017.

In an interview, poet David Lehman, founder of the Best American Poetry series and the editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry, observed that by embracing the abstract and experimental, the surreal and Dadaistic, Shapiro had developed a language all his own, one that "gives rise to an epiphany almost carelessly thrown off as a kind of side effect of the experience of generating new words out of old."

Shapiro's poetry collections also include Poems From Deal (1969), A Man Holding an Acoustic Panel (1971), To an Idea (1983), After a Lost Original (1994), and New and Selected Poems (1965-2006), which was published in 2007. Among his prose works are John Ashbery: An Introduction to the Poetry (1979) and You Are the You: Writings and Interviews on Poetry, Art and the New York School, which is slated for publication in the fall.

In a post on social media, author Joyce Carol Oates described him as a "wonderful presence, warm & generous to younger poets & writers. No one who knew David could quite envision him as the swaggering young hippie protester famous/notorious for smoking a cigar at the desk of the president of Columbia U. whose office he & fellow protesters were occupying."

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