Florida-based gay poet Gregg Shapiro has come a long way from his Midwest roots. He grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, feeling out-of-place and eager to explore his interest in writing. College offered him an escape. Shapiro completed his undergraduate degree in Boston and then set off for graduate school in Washington, D.C.
In the following years, he moved around the East Coast. And in time, he established himself as a noted entertainment journalist. Shapiro has published collections of poems and short stories, writing about lovers, friends and family — and commits every word to his fidelity to place.
"The main thing in both my fiction and my poetry is my interest in place … it’s really important for me to name streets or neighborhoods or sites," notes Shapiro.
Also important to him is honoring the shared experiences that connect us. Some of those shared experiences, like heartbreak and death, can lead to harrowing scenes of loss. But Shapiro says their value lies in the way that they push us out of our comfort zone. By leaving the safety of the familiar, he gains wisdom that he is eager to pass on to his readers.
"If I’m writing a poem about an experience, I’m hoping that someone can learn something from it or someone can relate to it — that there’s a commonality, a universal voice," says Shapiro.
He's had two collections of poems published this year. The first, More Poems About Buildings and Food, is a reflection on the people and places that shaped his formative years.
"More Poems has a mix of older and newer poems. The older poems ... have been revised countless times, so in my mind they’re new poems … but they also have their origin way in the past," Shapiro explains.
In his second collection of poems, Sunshine State, Shapiro ruminates on both the silly and sublime aspects of his present life in Fort Lauderdale.
"This is my Florida book. I can’t deny it … I love it," he says. "I’m happy. I have the ocean. I have sunshine. It’s green all year ‘round … I would have never written about nature in the way that I write about it in Sunshine State, because I didn’t feel like I had an experience of nature living in Chicago or living in Boston or living in D.C. … nature is everywhere in south Florida."