For Kate Schapira, poetic practice is a form of social engagement. While she seeks to write poetry that is “rigorously accountable” and “politically and ethically informed,” she aims for “illumination rather than transparency,” Schapira says. To that end, she pays close attention to the “rhythm and sound of language, to the swing of a line or sentence” and never loses sight of poetry’s potential to move, surprise, and inspire wonder.
One of Schapira’s central preoccupations, she says, is the relationship between the individual and community. This concern is perhaps most apparent in her third book, How We Saved the City (Stockport Flats, 2011), a collection of poetry that “looks at the various overlapping Providences that people who live here inhabit. How does each person inhabit and experience the city? What does each person think the city needs, and how do those needs and versions impinge on one another? What happens when versions overlap and people have to deal with each other? How do people stay in or out of the Providence they consider to be theirs?”
Schapira’s fourth and most recent collection of poetry, The Soft Place, “is a more interior book. It is about generosity and sharing versus hoarding, what it is possible to do for another person, borders and boundaries — literal, social, psychic — and how it is possible to maintain or cross them,” she says.
In addition to four collections of poetry, Schapira has produced six chapbooks and published in numerous anthologies and journals. Some of her individual poems have appeared in Denver Quarterly, H_NGM_N, No Tell Motel, Tarpaulin Sky, Drunken Boat, and an anthology from Stockport Flats called American Ghost: Poets on Life After Industry.
A graduate of Brown’s M.F.A. program in literary arts, Schapira cites her former professor C.D. Wright as an influence and credits Wright with helping her integrate an ethic of accountability with a devotion to language play. Like Wright, Schapira enjoys repurposing language used for reasons other than poetry, such as reports on Supreme Court decisions, the headings on her Social Security statement, or the conversation of a woman caring for her husband after his liver transplant.
Schapira has been teaching in the Nonfiction Writing Program as a visiting lecturer since 2007. As a full-time lecturer in English this year, she will continue to teach the academic essay and creative nonfiction, adding a new advanced writing class called “Concealing and Revealing: Writing the Unsaid,” which focuses on how writers grapple with secrets. Schapira has also taught at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and Providence College.
“Kate is an innovative teacher who is constantly rethinking her pedagogy and has a passionate following of students,” says Elizabeth Taylor, co-director of the Nonfiction Writing Program. “She brings to the nonfiction faculty a deep involvement with community writing projects. In this way she inspires students to see nonfiction writing as a social act that links College Hill and its surrounding neighborhoods.”
Besides teaching at Brown, Schapira participates in Providence Writers-in-the-Schools, a program that brings professional writers into Providence elementary school classrooms to teach writing.
Schapira also founded and co-curates Publicly Complex, a reading series at Ada Books on Westminster Street in Providence. “When I started in 2006, there was a strong wave of over-simplification in public discourse, so I wanted to feature writers being complex in public,” she says. The program won a Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) grant in 2009, when the series expanded to include fiction writers.
Schapira conceived of the series as a venue for emerging poets in need of opportunities to share work in public. “The gag is that we feature the work of soon-to-be-famous writers,” she says.
“I love the series because it gets Providence writers together, I meet writers I love, and I get to discover new writers,” says Schapira, who lives on the west side of Providence with her husband, cartoonist James McShane. “The ‘all is possible’ approach of Providence writers and artists has given me the energy and encouragement to take risks in my work.”