Shel Silverstein

1930–1999
Shel Silverstein

A singer-songwriter, cartoonist, screenwriter, award-winning children’s writer, and actor, Shel Silverstein grew up in Chicago, Illinois. He started out as a cartoonist, publishing work in Playboy and the military publication Stars & Stripes, before turning to children’s books. Silverstein is the author and illustrator of numerous books, including The Giving Tree (1964), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974), A Light in the Attic (1981), and Falling Up (1996). His books have been commended for their appeal to both adults and children.

Silverstein’s poems are often darkly humorous, irreverent, and populated with invented characters, such as the “Bloath” in Where the Sidewalk Ends, who dwells “[i]n the undergrowth” and “feeds upon poets and tea.” Silverstein’s poems and stories are accompanied by his simple yet energetic pen-and-ink illustrations. The Giving Tree, a fable about a lifelong relationship between a boy and a tree, has become a classic in the canon of children’s literature and has sold over five million copies.

As a songwriter, Silverstein wrote “The Cover of the Rolling Stone,” recorded by Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show; “Unicorn Song,” for the Irish Rovers; “A Boy Named Sue,” for Johnny Cash; and “Queen of the Silver Dollar,” which Emmylou Harris covered on Pieces of the Sky. Silverstein collaborated with playwright David Mamet on the screenplay Things Change (1988), and they and Elaine May staged a series of one-act plays called Oh, Hell (1991).

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Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

LIFE SPAN 1930–1999

Shel Silverstein

Biography

A singer-songwriter, cartoonist, screenwriter, award-winning children’s writer, and actor, Shel Silverstein grew up in Chicago, Illinois. He started out as a cartoonist, publishing work in Playboy and the military publication Stars & Stripes, before turning to children’s books. Silverstein is the author and illustrator of numerous books, including The Giving Tree (1964), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974), A Light in the Attic . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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