Shapiro Remembered for “Magnificent Translations,” Witticisms

Norman Shapiro, professor of french.

Norman Shapiro

Norman Shapiro, Distinguished Professor of Literary Translation and Poet in Residence, formerly professor of romance languages and literatures, died April 3 at the age of 89.

Shapiro arrived at Wesleyan in 1960 after receiving his BA and MA from Harvard University, completing a Fulbright Fellowship at Université d’Aix-Marseille in France, and returning to Harvard for his PhD. He stepped down from regular duties in 2017 but continued in his roles as Distinguished Professor of Literary Translation and Poet in Residence.

In addition to his classes in Romance languages and literatures, Shapiro also taught American Sign Language and served as the faculty advisor to DKE for almost 60 years. For their 50th reunion book, the class of 1965 named Shapiro as the faculty member who had the biggest impact on their post-Wesleyan lives. One former student was quoted as saying, “Those of us who had the privilege of knowing Norm as a counselor and mentor will remember his natural ability to guide us through our transition from childhood to adulthood. He ‘got us.’”

Shapiro was a productive scholar who published extensively. His translations of Feydeau, Labiche, and other French comic playwrights were performed in the United States and throughout the English-speaking world. In April 2010 he was named Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, an honor bestowed by the minister of culture and communication of the French government.

“Norman knew laughter, and spent his life evoking smiles, witticisms, mirth, and linguistic enjoyment in writing, in speaking, in life,” said Joyce Lowrie, professor of romance languages and literatures, emerita. “He will be missed by students, readers of his magnificent translations, by colleagues, and friends.”

Associate Professor of French Typhaine Leservot recalled, “He knew the French language like no other. Like the true Québécois he never was, he could repurpose those long-forgotten French words to translate those pesky English words that the French insist on using.”

“Uncle Nort” is survived by his nieces Carolyne and Leslie; nephew Paul; grandnieces Patricia, Miro, and Suni; grandnephew Tanner; and great grandniece Madelyn. A celebration in his honor will take place in the fall for what would have marked his 90th birthday. In lieu of gifts, the family asks that friends consider a donation in his memory. Norman’s favorite charities included the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).