Writer, editor, photographer, interviewer and author of "The Creative Spark"

Buy The Creative Spark

In a Nutshell

Michael Shapiro writes about travel, the performing arts, and environmental issues for magazines and newspapers. A former staff reporter and editor at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, he’s the author of The Creative Spark, a collection of interviews with many of the world’s most creative people, and A Sense of Place, featuring conversations with leading travel writers. His stories appear in National Geographic, AFAR, The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle and many other publications.


  • Travel writer with features in National Geographic, including coverage of Jane Goodall’s Trees for Jane initiative
  • Freelance contributor to the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle
  • Awards: Bedford Pace, Lowell Thomas (from Society of American Travel Writers), Solas, Independent Publishers (for both The Creative Spark and A Sense of Place) and four-time winner of Travel Classics’ top prize
  • Freelance editor for newspaper, magazine and book projects

Michael Shapiro is a 2022 recipient of the Greater Good Science Center grant. Along with San Francisco author Ethan Watters, he will be investigating how travel makes us more open to the world. The U.C. Berkeley grant focuses on the concept of intellectual humility, the idea that not everything you believe is necessarily true. The title of their grant proposal: “Traveler’s Mind: Can Travel Foster Intellectual Humility and Can We Cultivate that Openness at Home?”

Shapiro has recently interviewed Jane Goodall for National Geographic and Fran Lebowitz, Peter Coyote and Sarah McLachlan for newspaper profiles. His tribute to legendary author Jan Morris appeared in National Geographic in November 2020 and his remembrance of adventure writer Dervla Murphy was published by AFAR in June 2022.

He is author of the book, The Creative Spark: How musicians, writers, explorers, and other artists found their inner fire and followed their dreams, published in 2019 and winner of a bronze medal at the Independent Publisher Book Awards. The book is a collection of interviews and biographical sketches that serve as an inspiration for creative endeavors. Among those whom Shapiro interviews in The Creative Spark: Smokey Robinson, Lucinda Williams, Francis Ford Coppola, Pico Iyer, Jane Goodall, Amy Tan, David Sedaris, and Barbara Kingsolver.

A freelance journalist, Shapiro’s features have appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times. He’s written for the following newspaper sections: travel, news, sports, entertainment, business, real estate, home and garden, books, and the Sunday magazine. From 2011 to 2018, Shapiro wrote the San Francisco Chronicle’s weekly gambling column. Since 2008, he’s covered music and the performing arts for The Press Democrat, interviewing Lyle Lovett, Patti LaBelle, Graham Nash, Phil Lesh, and B.B. King.

Among his travel assignments: Shapiro has bicycled down Mongolia’s unmarked dirt roads for the Washington Post, tasted tequila in Jalisco for American Way, played baseball for a week at the San Francisco Giants fantasy camp for Lexus magazine, and tracked pumas in Chile’s Patagonia region on a photo safari for a custom lifestyle publication. He’s written for magazines including the Saturday Evening Post, The Sun, AFAR, Virtuoso Traveler and Alaska Beyond. Years ago, he profiled Jane Goodall for O the Oprah magazine.

Shapiro’s National Geographic Traveler cover story, about Jan Morris’ corner of Wales, won the 2007 Bedford Pace grand award for best feature about Great Britain. His article about sustainable seafood in Vancouver earned the 2016 Explore Canada Award of Excellence. He’s won the Lowell Thomas award from the Society of American Travel Writers, the Solas award for travel essays, and is a four-time winner of Travel Classics’ top prize.

Shapiro’s first literary book, A Sense of Place, is a collection of interviews with the world’s leading travel authors including Bill Bryson, Jan Morris, Peter Matthiessen, and Paul Theroux. In 2008, he wrote the text for Kraig Lieb’s photography book, Guatemala: A Journey Through the Land of the Maya. In 1997, O’Reilly Media published Shapiro’s book, NetTravel: How Travelers Use the Internet, an early guide to online travel planning. Subsequent editions came out in 2000 and 2002, published by Globe Pequot.

He co-directed and produced the 2017 documentary film, Junkyard Alchemist, about Sebastopol artists Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent, who turn junk into art. The film earned Best of the Fest recognition in the short film category at the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival.

Also in 2017, Shapiro delivered a Sonoma County TEDx talk entitled “The Space Between” about how travel fosters understanding and can encourage people to build bridges rather than walls.

Among the countries Shapiro has reported from: Cuba, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Nepal, China, Mongolia, Singapore, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Kenya, South Africa, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Ireland, the UK (England, Scotland and Wales), Guatemala, Canada and Mexico.

Shapiro lives with his wife, Jacqueline Yau, and their two cats in Sonoma County, California, just north of San Francisco. He volunteers as a whitewater raft guide and sea kayak trip leader for Environmental Traveling Companions, a Northern California outfitter that takes disabled people on outdoor adventures.

In 2016, he co-led a 16-day raft trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, somehow rowing his wife without incident through the harrowing rapids of Lava Falls. He enjoys bicycling along the backroads of Sonoma County, playing low-stakes poker with friends, listening to live music, and attending San Francisco Giants games.

Shapiro's BookTV panel discussion with Isabel Allende, Tim Cahill, Jan Morris and Jeff Greenwald

For the book launch of A Sense of Place, I set up a panel discussion with four of the leading literary lights of our time: Isabel Allende, Tim Cahill, Jan Morris, and Jeff Greenwald. The national cable network BookTV recorded and broadcast the 90-minute conversation, and you can see it here by clicking the link below. Here’s BookTV description of the event:
The panelists are featured in Shapiro’s latest book A Sense of Place, published by Travelers' Tales. The book includes conversations with these writers, including the details of their day-to-day lives, how they nurture their writing talents, and how they survive their adventures. All of the panelists answered questions from members of the audience following the discussion.

Morris spoke about why, in spite of and because of the fact that she is a travel writer, she always returns home to her native Wales. She also spoke about her experience as a reporter covering the first expedition to successfully climb Mt. Everest.

Allende spoke about her experience as a forced traveler and how her life as an emigrant shaped the way she has defined home. Forced to flee the military coup in Chile in which her father was killed, Allende discussed how her memory and concept of home has been centered on people rather than places and objects.

Cahill described his home in Montana and jokingly attributed his continued residence there to the fact that “they don’t have any warrants for my arrest.” He spoke about how the wisdom derived from travel is only gained through reflection afterward.

Greenwald talked about his love for his hometown of Oakland as well as his adoptive home in Katmandu. He spoke about how his travel writing has changed as he began to publish his work on the Internet rather than in print.



Hearing some of the great travel writers talk about their craft is certainly instructive for readers and writers alike. Most enjoyable are (Shapiro’s) interviews with some of the standard-bearers Arthur Frommer, Eric Newby, Peter Matthiessen and Jan Morris.

The New York Times Book Review

Shapiro functions as a less long-winded Charlie Rose. He’s done his homework, seeming to know the books as well as their authors do. He elicits philosophies of travel (Jan Morris says, ‘Grin like a dog and run about the city’) as well as homely advice (Tim Cahill: ‘Never go shark diving with a guy that’s only got one arm’).

Washington Post

I enjoyed A Sense of Place down to the last drop. This is a wonderful book, full of literary and experiential allusions — a fascinating read.

Keith Bellows

Editor, Washington Post

Illuminating, entertaining, and insightful.

Chicago Tribune

Big-minded, big-hearted, progressive and compassionate.

San Francisco Chronicle

Notable Work

Michael Shapiro’s latest book: The Creative Spark: How musicians, writers, explorers, and other artists found their inner fire and followed their dreams launched in November 2109. He delivered a TEDx talk in 2017 and earlier had a cover story in National Geographic Traveler magazine. See below for more.

Get in touch

Please drop me a line. Whether you’re interested in "The Creative Spark" or booking an event, or are a long-lost friend, I’d enjoy hearing from you.