David A. Boxwell
Reginald Shepherd was born in New York City on April 10, 1963, to Goldburn Shepherd and Blanche Althea Berry. His life to date has, by his own estimation, been a peripatetic one: never at home in one place, feeling a sense of himself in the interstitial spaces of cityscape, neighborhood, race, class, and sex/gender. As he expresses it in the essay “This Place/Displace,” “I’ve wandered from place to place, from school to school, a deeply unheroic Odysseus less in search of a home (that was long gone, if it had ever been mine at all) than fleeing a place (any number of places) in which he feared being trapped.” Raised by his mother, the poet grew up in the Bronx “housing projects and tenements” in “actual poverty,” as he puts it in an interview with Charles Rowell (qtd. in Rowell 290, 301). In the midst of such challenging circumstances, the bookish child captivated by stories of Greek mythology was, in effect, rescued by his mother, who worked hard to find her son a private school that could give the family enough aid. She succeeded in placing Shepherd, then eight years old, in the Riverdale Country Day School in another part of the Bronx, yet a whole world away from his neighborhood’s grinding deprivation. After a year of home tutoring, Shepherd attended the Adams School in Manhattan for two years, a private school for gifted and emotionally troubled children. His most compatible schooling came in the ninth grade at the Robert Louis Stevenson School in Manhattan, and it was there that Shepherd, introduced to T.S Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” decided that he would be a poet. His mother’s death in 1978, ten days before his fifteenth birthday, caused Shepherd to be removed to his aunt’s family in Macon, Georgia, yet another traumatic period of outsiderhood in the poet’s life.
Understanding that he was gay before the age of thirteen or so, he said, “I was