1930 - 2020
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SHAPIRO, Norman Richard Professor of Romance Languages Norman Richard Shapiro died peacefully on Friday, April 3rd, 2020. Born on November 1, 1930, Norman was the third born son to Harry A. Shapiro & Eva Goldberg Shapiro. He was the youngest brother to Dr. Jim "Manny" Shapiro and Dr. Sumner L. Shapiro. Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Norman chose to make Cambridge his permanent home. He attended Boston Latin School, and earned this Bachelors, Masters as well as PhD from Harvard University, class 1951. Norman had a passion for romance languages and pursued his doctorate in French. He traveled to Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1955, and after receiving his PhD, Norm joined the Wesleyan faculty in Romance languages where he eventually became a tenured professor. Known for his translation of French classics, poetry, and novels, he received many awards. "Four Farces by George Feydeau" was nominated for a National Book Award, and in 2011, the French government promoted Norm to the Rank of "Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters of the French Republic." The honor marks the achievement of a lifetime dedicated to translation of the spread of French culture." He was a daily fixture at Harvard's Adam House, stationed at his customary table as writer in residence. From here he advised undergraduate students on their writings, produced plays and continued his translations. In addition, he remained a beloved mentor and advisor to the Delta Kappa Epilson (DKE) Fraternity of Weslyan University for over 50 years. Norman was also a longstanding member of the American Academy of Poets and an expert and teacher of American Sign Language. Norman was well-received by all who came in contact with him. He was humble, lived a modest life and did not like to indulge in frivolities. He loved to tell both stories and jokes and was a born entertainer. He was known affectionately as "Uncle Snort" by his west coast family. His love affair with magic began at an early age, and continued throughout his life. Hand tricks and hypnosis were part of his regular fare, and when in Los Angeles, he always found time to visit Hollywood's Magic Castle, where he was a member. Language, languages, and word-play were his world. This was a gift passed down to him by his poet mother. Quote: I had a wonderful mother who wrote poetry as much as housework allowed and who was always asking my opinion… Do you think this line works? That sort of thing, more to flatter me than because she needed it. Undoubtedly she ingrained in me the feeling for what works and what doesn't. My French women poets anthology bears a dedication to "the loving memory of the first woman poet I ever knew, my mother." Poetry was always in the house, in the air." An excerpt from Selected Poems from Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Norman R. Shapiro, published by the University of Chicago Press: Imagine, ma petite, Dear sister mine, how sweet Were we to go and take our pleasure Leisurely, you and I— To lie, to love, to die Off in that land made to your measure! A land whose suns' moist rays, Through the skies' misty haze, Hold quite the same dark charms for me As do your scheming eyes When they, in their like wise, Shine through your tears, perfidiously. There all is order, naught amiss: Comfort and beauty, calm and bliss. Treasure galore—ornate, Time-glossed—would decorate Our chamber, where the rarest blooms Would blend their lavish scent, Heady and opulent, With wisps ofamber-like perfumes; Where all the Orient's Splendid, rich ornaments— Deep mirrors, ceilings fine—would each, In confidential tone, Speak to the soul alone In its own sweet and secret speech. There all is order, naught amiss: Comfort and beauty, calm and bliss. See how the ships, asleep— They who would ply the deep!— Line the canals: to satisfy Your merest whim they come From far-flung heathendom And skim the seven seas. —On high, The sunset's rays enfold In hyacinth and gold, Field and canal; and, with the night, As shadows gently fall, Behold! Life sleeps, and all Lies bathed in warmth and evening light. There all is order, naught amiss: Comfort and beauty, calm and bliss. Norman is survived by his nieces Carolyne and Leslie, nephew Paul, nephew-in-law Simon, grandnieces Patricia, Miro and Suni, grandnephew Tanner, cousin-in-law Dr. Allan Klieman and great grandniece Madelyn. More information on his ancestors journey to New England from Russia can be found online and in person at the Shapiro House - part of Stawbery Banke Museum. Norman was privately laid to rest at Sharon Memorial Park in Massachusetts. A celebration of life will follow in the Fall in honor of his 90th birthday. Norman's favorite charities included the Leukemia & Lymphoma society and for animals in need. Levine Chapels, Brookline 617-277-8300

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Published in Boston Globe from Apr. 11 to Apr. 12, 2020.
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4 entries
December 22, 2020
I met Professor Shapiro in the early aughts, many decades into his long and illustrious academic career, when I took his class at Wesleyan University on French literature by black authors. I had never met anyone like him, and do not expect to ever do so again.

In contrast to most of us, who find our energies greatly scattered and dissipated by the varied demands of modern existence, Professor Shapiro lived a life of concentration and focus so remarkable that it has likely only been matched very rarely in history. A scholar and professor of French language and literature for at least sixty years, Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, he brought his considerable mental energies to bear on a single subject with the devotion of a medieval monk or an Ancient Greek philosopher. When you spoke with him, you knew you were speaking with a profound expert of a kind very rarely encountered, but also with a person who deeply loved his subject, and knew how to pass that love on to his students with playfulness and joy.

Witty and hilarious in class discussions, Professor Shapiro was a master of puns and of mock-seriousness. His self-deprecating humor made an asset of his sphinx-like mysteriousness; I recall, for example, that he once elucidated an antique French term for “wig” by tugging at his own curly locks, as though he were about to remove them from his head. A kind of rhetorical standoff ensued, with my fellow students and I torn between doubting and believing in the gesture. As usual with him, the truth was elusive, the comedy more important (though I am personally certain that the hair was entirely his — in other moments, he seemed rightly, if jokingly, proud of it).

This, and all our interactions with him, were conducted entirely and unstintingly in highly erudite French. I recall another of my French professors, a native speaker and literary scholar, once telling me that she was sometimes nervous to speak French in Professor Shapiro’s presence, so excellent was his command of the language. French linguistic pride being what it is, the number of other Americans who ever have achieved such a feat must be small indeed.

Years after graduating from Wesleyan, I suddenly bumped into Professor Shapiro in Harvard Square. Despite the gaps of time and distance, our conversation during that unexpected encounter was still wholly in French. This happened several more times over the next few years I lived in Cambridge. In fact, in all my years of interaction with him, I only heard him speak English on one occasion, and I still remember it as a shocking moment.

To be Professor Shapiro’s student was to encounter greatness. He inspired me to strive for such dedication and accomplishment in my own life, and though I may never come close to the Montparnassian heights he achieved, my life is the richer for having glimpsed them.
Daniel Dykes
April 20, 2020
We will miss Norm, his poetry books, and his visits to the Grolier Poetry Book Shop; and seeing him working quietly on his latest book, a translation of French dog poems, while sitting in a booth at Au bon pan on Putnam Ave befoe it closed. He was a gentle, kind and friendly man of enormous accomplishments.
The grolier Poetry Book Shop the staff
April 13, 2020
The last book of translated poems I received from Norm was his "One Hundred and One Poems by Paul Verlaine", back in 1999. Inside the front cover, he inscribed it "For Lloyd Komesar, With Warm Good Wishes, Norm Shapiro." I treasured the classes I took with Norm in the early 70s at Wesleyan. We stayed in touch over the years and I was always delighted to have him respond to my emails and notes of congratulations for the exemplary work he offered us. A quiet inspiration to anyone who knew him, a man of considerable humor and grace and a damn good professor from whom the receipt of knowledge and understanding of poetry was a genuine gift. A long life well lived. Thank you, Norm.
Lloyd Komesar
April 12, 2020
Norm was the anchor of my Wesleyan exprience and as a Boston native, we met as often in Middletown in French class and Downey House as we did in Harvard Square for all the late night gatherings of a wide mix of academics and characters sharing views of life, humor, magic, etc. Norm never asked anything of us--except to see his plays at Adams House--which i did, and to be good humored with him. His twinkle, his caring, his unconventionality have stayed with me since 1967 when i was a freshman at Wesleyan! I hope Norm can be as witty, as irreverent, and as all knowing in heaven as he must! Our class 50th reunion is next May, 2021, and we wanted to have Norm as an honored guest, as he did for our 40th...He will be there in spirit for sure...Todd Jick, Wesleyan'71
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