Shel Silverstein Biography & Facts
Sheldon Allan Silverstein (; September 25, 1930 – May 10, 1999) was an American writer, poet, cartoonist, singer-songwriter, musician, and playwright. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Silverstein briefly attended university before being drafted into the United States Army. During his rise to prominence in the 1950s, his illustrations were published in various newspapers and magazines, including the adult-oriented Playboy. He also wrote a satirical, adult-oriented alphabet book, Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book, under the stylized name "Uncle Shelby", which he used as an occasional pen name.
As a children's author, some of his most acclaimed works include The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and A Light in the Attic. His works have been translated into more than 47 languages and have sold more than 20 million copies. As a songwriter, Silverstein wrote the 1969 Johnny Cash track "A Boy Named Sue", which peaked at number 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. His songs have been recorded and popularized by a wide range of other acts including Tompall Glaser, The Irish Rovers and Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show. He was the recipient of two Grammy Awards as well as nominations at the Golden Globe Awards and Academy Awards.
Silverstein had two children, Shoshanna Jordan Hastings (June 30, 1970 – April 24, 1982) and Matthew De Ver (born November 10, 1984). Shoshanna died of an aneurysm at age 11, and the book A Light in the Attic is dedicated in her memory. Silverstein died at his home in Key West, Florida, of a heart attack on May 10, 1999, at the age of 68.
Sheldon Allan Silverstein was born into a Jewish family in Chicago on September 25, 1930. He grew up in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, where he attended Theodore Roosevelt High School. He then attended the University of Illinois, from which he was expelled. He enrolled in the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, which he was attending when he was drafted into the U.S. Army; he served in Japan and Korea.
Silverstein began drawing at age seven by tracing the works of Al Capp. He told Publishers Weekly: "When I was a kid—12 to 14, I'd much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls, but I couldn't play ball. I couldn't dance. Luckily, the girls didn't want me. Not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and to write. I was also lucky that I didn't have anybody to copy, be impressed by. I had developed my own style; I was creating before I knew there was a Thurber, a Benchley, a Price and a Steinberg. I never saw their work 'til I was around 30. By the time I got to where I was attracting girls, I was already into work, and it was more important to me. Not that I wouldn't rather make love, but the work has become a habit."He was first published in the Roosevelt Torch, a student newspaper at Roosevelt University, where he studied English after leaving the Art Institute. During his time in the military, his cartoons were published in Pacific Stars and Stripes, where he had originally been assigned to do layouts and paste up. His first book Take Ten, a compilation of his military Take Ten cartoon series, was published by Pacific Stars and Stripes in 1955. He later said his time in college was a waste and would have been better spent traveling around the world meeting people.After returning to Chicago, Silverstein began submitting cartoons to magazines while also selling hot dogs at Chicago ballparks. His cartoons began appearing in Look, Sports Illustrated and This Week.Mass-market paperback readers across America were introduced to Silverstein in 1956 when Take Ten was reprinted by Ballantine Books as Grab Your Socks!
In 1957, Silverstein became one of the leading cartoonists in Playboy, which sent him around the world to create an illustrated travel journal with reports from far-flung locales. During the 1950s and 1960s, he produced 23 installments called "Shel Silverstein Visits..." as a feature for Playboy. Employing a sketchbook format with typewriter-styled captions, he documented his own experiences at such locations as a New Jersey naturist community, the Chicago White Sox training camp, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, Fire Island, Mexico, London, Paris, Spain and Africa. In a Swiss village, he drew himself complaining, "I'll give them 15 more minutes, and if nobody yodels, I'm going back to the hotel." These illustrated travel essays were collected by the publisher Fireside in Playboy's Silverstein Around the World, published in 2007 with a foreword by Hugh Hefner and an introduction by music journalist Mitch Myers.In a similar vein were his illustrations for John Sack's Report from Practically Nowhere (1959), a collection of humorous travel vignettes previously appearing in Playboy and other magazines.
"Now here's my plan..."
A cartoon he made during the 1950s was featured on the cover of his next cartoon collection, titled Now Here's My Plan: A Book of Futilities, which was published by Simon & Schuster in 1960. Silverstein biographer Lisa Rogak wrote:
The cartoon on the cover that provides the book's title would turn out to be one of his most famous and often-cited cartoons. In the cartoon, two prisoners are chained to the wall of a prison cell. Both their hands and feet are shackled. One says to the other, "Now here's my plan." Silverstein was both fascinated and distressed by the amount of analysis and commentary that almost immediately began to swirl around the cartoon. "A lot of people said it was a very pessimistic cartoon, which I don't think it is at all," he said. "There's a lot of hope even in a hopeless situation. They analyze it and question it. I did this cartoon because I had an idea about a funny situation about two guys."
Silverstein's cartoons appeared in issues of Playboy from 1957 through the mid-1970s, and one of his Playboy features was expanded into Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book (Simon & Schuster, 1961), his first book of new, original material for adults.
Silverstein studied briefly at Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. His musical output included a large catalog of songs; a number of them were hits for other artists, such as the rock group Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show. He wrote Tompall Glaser's highest-charting solo single "Put Another Log on the Fire", "One's on the Way" and "Hey Loretta" (both hits for Loretta Lynn, in 1971 and 1973 respectively), and "25 Minutes to Go", sung by Johnny Cash, about a man on death row with each line counting down one minute closer. Lynn recorded five songs written by Silverstein. Lynn's producer Owen Bradley once said Silversteins style of song writing was the most similar to that of Lynn's own writing. Silverstein also wrote Cash's biggest hit, "A Boy Named Sue" as well as "The Unicorn", first recorded by Silverstein in 1962 but better known in its version by The Irish Rovers. Other songs co-written by Silverstein include "The Taker" written .... Discover the Shel Silverstein popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Shel Silverstein books.