Shel Silverstein


Shel Silverstein (September 25, 1930 – May 10, 1999) was an American poet, musician, cartoonist, screenwriter, songwriter, and children”s book writer, latter known to readers as Uncle Shelby. He signed some of his cartoons with the initials S.S.

Shel Silverstein”s name became widely known for the children”s books he himself illustrated, most notably The Missing Piece, The Light in the Attic, Where the Pavement Ends, and The Generous Tree. The author himself said that he never studied poetry and therefore developed his own style, relaxed and narratively colloquial, often using profanity and elements of colloquialism. In addition, Shel Silverstein composed slang poetry and even rewrote Hamlet in a rap style.

Silverstein”s books, translated into 20 languages, have sold 20 million copies worldwide

Sheldon Allan Silverstein was born and raised in Chicago. Al Kappa was his first inspiration: “The first thing I did was redraw Kappa and he really influenced me. He could draw figures of people, bodies, hands,” Silverstein said in an interview with Studs Terkel. Silverstein also named Virgil Partch among the cartoonists who influenced him in his early years.

In an interview with Publisher”s Weekly, he said:

Silverstein went to the Art Institute of Chicago, but left after one year. He published his first work in the student newspaper Roosevelt Torch, then, after enlisting in the army, in the Pacific branch of Stars and Stripes, where he published his first comic book, Take Ten (1955). Returning to Chicago after his discharge, Silverstein began working as a freelance cartoonist for various magazines (while moonlighting as a hot-dog vendor at stadium parks). His cartoons were published by Look, Sports Illustrated, and This Week. In 1956 Silverstein first hit the mass market: Take Ten was reprinted by Ballantine Books as Grab Your Socks! (with a foreword by Bill Mauldin).

In 1957 Silverstein became one of the leading cartoonists of Playboy magazine, as a correspondent of which he traveled around the world. A total of 23 issues of his “Shel Silverstein Visits…” series were published here. These travel cartoon essays were collected in one collection, Playboy”s Silverstein Around the World (2007), with a foreword by Hugh Hefner and an introduction from music journalist Mitch Myers. Silverstein”s cartoons were published in Playboy annually from 1957 until the mid-1970s; one issue was expanded and published separately under the title Uncle Shelby”s ABZ Book (it was his first collection exclusively for adults. In 1960 one of Silverstein”s most famous drawings was published on the cover of Now Here”s My Plan: A Book of Futilities, a collection of cartoons published by Simon & Schuster.

Books for Children

Silverstein began writing for children at the urging of his editor at Harper & Row (now HarperCollins), Ursula Nordstrom. Publishers Weekly (describing the author as “a strong, muscular, trained man, a veteran of the Korean War”), asked him how he came to the decision to begin writing for children. Silversteen answered:

Silverstine”s bestselling children”s works include The Giving Tree, Uncle Shelby”s ABZ, A Giraffe and a Half, and Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back, the latter of which he called his favorite.

Otto Penzler, in the preface to his 1998 anthology of the detective novel Murder for Revenge, wrote of the extraordinary versatility of Silverstein, author of pop hits, cartoons, children”s stories and adult humorous prose, noting that A Light in the Attic spent two years on New York Times bestseller lists, something neither Stephen King nor John Grisham nor Michael Creighton could achieve.


Shel Silverstein developed an interest in music when he was a student at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. His songs were later performed by Tompall Glaser (“Put Another Log on the Fire”), Loretta Lynn (“One”s on the Way”), The Irish Rovers (“The Unicorn”), Johnny Cash (“25 Minutes to Go”, “A Boy Named Sue”), Bobby Bair (“Rosalie”s Good Eats Cafe”, “The Mermaid”, “The Winner”, “Tequila Sheila”). Silverstein was especially successful with the rock band Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show, for which he wrote hit songs such as “Sylvia”s Mother” and “The Cover of the Rolling Stone.

With Baxter Taylor, Silverstein wrote the song “Marie Laveau,” for which the author duo was awarded the BMI Award in 1975. Silverstein”s song “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan,” first recorded by Dr. Hook in 1975, was later sung by Marianne Faithfull (1979) and Belinda Carlyle (1996), and was later used on the soundtracks for the films Montenegro and Thelma & Louise. The song “Queen of the Silver Dollar” (Dr. Hook, 1972) was later performed by Doyle Holly (1973), Emmylou Harris (1975) and Dave & Sugar (1976). His “In the Hills of Shiloh” was also recorded by The New Christy Minstrels and Judy Collins. In Ned Kelly (1970) Silverstein”s songs were sung by Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, among others.a



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