David Shapiro was born on January 2, 1947, in Newark, New Jersey. He grew up in Deal, New Jersey, in a family of noted artists: cantors, composers, classical singers, pianists, poets, and sculptors. A violin prodigy, Shapiro began performing for large audiences at the age of five and, during the next eleven years, performed with several noted orchestras.
Shapiro was also exposed to poetry at a young age, having read and memorized significant excerpts of the writings of William Blake, T. S. Eliot, John Milton, and William Shakespeare by the age of ten. At nine years old, Shapiro wrote his first poem and, for the next seven years, spent up to three hours a day writing poetry. He began publishing his poetry overseas at the age of ten, and in 1960 he published his first poem in the United States, in the Antioch Review.
By the time he turned fifteen, Shapiro had self-published several poetry collections. That same year he became exposed to many first-generation members of the New York School, who would serve as mentors and influences in his work. He met Frank O’Hara, corresponded with John Ashbery, and worked closely with Kenneth Koch, who recommended Shapiro for undergraduate enrollment at Columbia College, where Shapiro was accepted at the age of sixteen. After taking a year off to play music and write, Shapiro enrolled in Columbia College and published his first book of poems, January (Holt, Rinehart and Winston), in 1965, at the age of eighteen.
Shapiro graduated from Columbia with a BA in English and studied Greek tragedy and English literature at Cambridge University for two years under the Kellett Fellowship, earning an MA. He then returned to Columbia for his PhD in English and comparative literature.
Shapiro has authored over twenty books of literary and art criticism and poetry, including New and Selected Poems, 1965–2006 (Overlook Press, 2007); A Burning Interior (Overlook Press, 2002); and After a Lost Original (Overlook Press, 1994).
His honors include a poetry grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the 1977 Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Graham Foundation, Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Shapiro taught English at Columbia College from 1972 to 1981, and has taught poetry and literature at the Cooper Union School of Architecture since 1980. He has also taught at Brooklyn College, Princeton University, and William Paterson College, where he is tenured as an art historian. He lives in Riverside, New York.