Born on November 10, 1913, in Baltimore, Karl Jay Shapiro attended the University of Virginia and Johns Hopkins University. He graduated in 1939 and served in the army for the duration of World War II. Shapiro's poetry began to be published during the war; while stationed in New Guinea, he would send poems home to his fiancée, who then had them printed. Collections of these form the bulk of his best-known work: Person, Place, and Thing (1942), Place of Love (1943), Essay on Rime (1945), and V-Letter and Other Poems (1945), which won the Pulitzer Prize. Shapiro was editor of Poetry magazine from 1948 to 1950.
Shapiro then became a member of the English faculty at the University of NebraskaLincoln, where he was the editor of Prairie Schooner from 1956-1966. There he solicited and published many important twentieth-century poets, including Richard Eberhart, Josephine Jacobsen, Josephine Miles, John Frederick Nims, Octavio Paz, and William Carlos Williams. Shapiro's fame broke important ground for Jewish-American poets: in 1948 he opposed the Bollingen Prize committee's decision to grant an award to Ezra Pound, on the grounds of Pound's rampant anti-Semitism and in 1950 he published Poems of a Jew. He was awarded a Levison Prize, the Contemporary Poetry Prize in 1943, an Academy of Arts and Letters Grant in 1944, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Shelley Memorial Prize. He also served as Poetry Consultant at the Library of Congress, a position which is now the U.S. Poet Laureate. Shapiro died in New York City on May 14, 2000.