Editor’s Note: A Daily staffer performed at “Café Shapiro,” but they were not involved in the creation, production or publication of this piece.
Soft prose was spoken aloud and copious cups of steaming coffee were sipped as a warm afternoon of poems and stories melted away the winter snow and made way for a beautiful and bountiful spring of creative writing.
Celebrating its 25th Anniversary, the annual “Café Shapiro” is an event, traditionally held at the Shapiro Undergraduate Library, initially conceived as a study break for student writers to share their creative works. Since then, it has evolved into a longstanding tradition, giving students nominated by their instructors the opportunity to read their writing aloud, often for the first time. This year’s event, held over Zoom on March 14 and 15, featured 19 undergraduate students sharing their short stories and poems.
Hosted by Digital Education Librarian Naomi Binnie and co-hosted by several student library ambassadors, the program was packed from start to finish with both talent and emotions. Ranging from macabre narratives to deeply personal reflective stories, “Café Shapiro” showcased a vast sea of genres and media in the literary arts.
Hitting a riveting emotional beat early in the event was a poem by LSA sophomore Lily Price. The poem, titled “Twin Sized Bed,” uses familiar and anecdotal language to describe a breakup in painstaking detail. As it was read aloud, it was broken up into five sections — each representing different phases in this relationship, delving deeper into the speaker’s internalization of this process. Price’s reading of her piece delivered a powerful rendition of something surely familiar to many college students. Poetry can be as therapeutic as it can be artistic; this is the poem everyone needs to hear after going through a breakup.
Taking a much more philosophical approach was LSA freshman Princess-J’Maria Mboup’s winding narrative poem titled “Auras and Energies.” The poem chronicles the speaker on a night out as they place themselves into the lives of several strangers and craft intricate fictional lives for these background characters. The poem investigates empathy and understanding through the lives of others, and in the process tackles themes of personal identity, belonging and a desire to be perceived as more than just an extra in someone else’s life. Mboup’s poem immaculately weaves together philosophical surrealism and grounded epiphanies that profoundly analyze what it means to be a person.
A collection of poems by LSA sophomore Neil Peterson provided a refreshing and unique take on both nature and relationships. One of his poems, titled “Roadkill,” considers the effects of highways and roads on wildlife, while “Warhorse” personifies the emotions of a horse that has been through lasting trauma. Peterson’s poems, although simple in concept, had unique flow and form that left a lasting impression.
The presentation of student writing was followed by a short Q&A session, in which panelists were asked their preferred genre, biggest inspiration and hardest challenges in the writing process. Prominent authors like Stephen King, Maya Angelou and Roxanne Gay were cited as favorite authors, as were more niche inspirations like Mark Dunn.
The take-home message from this enlightening event to aspiring writers and artists is in approaching the process: Writing can be messy. Panelists admitted to troubles in sprouting ideas, knowing where to stop a poem and the difficulties of writing in busy and trying stages of life. Despite this, the authors emphasized the importance of trial and error and unapologetically owning your work as an artist. Delivering a relatable and empowering message to young and aspiring writers is arguably as lasting as any of the works read aloud during this event.
The future is undoubtedly bright for many of the panelists, as “Café Shapiro” was drenched in powerful sentiment and sophisticated literary technique. Especially in spaces of art and literature, a virtual format can often create a disconnect between the art and the audience, but this was not the case as a distinct and intimate space was created for students to productively share their creative abilities. Put best in the final words of LSA freshman and Daily staffer Eva Ji’s poem “Unjaded,” “We will align online.”
Recordings of the “Cafe Shapiro” will be posted online after the event, and all student writing read aloud will be published in an anthology series through the University Library.
Daily Arts Writer Connor Jordan can be reached at email@example.com.