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Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, James Shapiro studied at Columbia University and the University of Chicago. He is currently Larry Miller Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he has taught since 1985. In 2011 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He the author of Rival Playwrights: Marlowe, Jonson, Shakespeare (1991); Shakespeare and the Jews (1996); Oberammergau: The Troubling Story of the World’s Most Famous Passion Play (2000); 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), which was awarded the Samuel Johnson Prize for the best non-fiction book published in Britain, as well as the Ballie Gifford "Winner of Winner" Award (2023); Contested Will (2010), which was awarded the Theater Library Association's George Freedley Memorial Award; and has edited an anthology on Shakespeare in America for the Library of America (2014). His 3-hour documentary on late Shakespeare--"The King and the Playwright"--aired on BBC4 in 2012 and his "The Mysterious Mr. Webster" on BBC2 in 2014.  The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 (2015), was awarded the the James Tait Black Prize as well as the Sheridan Morley Prize. Shakespeare in a Divided America (2020)--was a New York Times 'Ten Best Books of 2020' as well as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for non-fiction.

His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Guardian, the London Review of Books, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the TLS, the Los Angeles Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Sunday Times, The Irish Times, The New Statesman, and the Financial Times. He has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim Foundation, and The New York Public Library Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, and the American Academy in Berlin. 

He is currently Shakespeare Scholar in Residence at the Public Theater in New York City. He also serves on the board of the Authors Guild.