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Shel Silverstein Biography

A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein

Fans of humorous poetry often find themselves in search of a Shel Silverstein biography in order to learn more about this popular children's author.

A Brief Shel Silverstein Biography

Sheldon Silverstein was born September 25, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois. He passed away on May 10, 1999 after a heart attack. He was 68 years old at the time of his death.

After joining the army in the 1950s, Shel Silverstein spent time fighting in Korea and Japan. He began drawing cartoons for the military magazine Stars and Stripes, which later led to a job as a cartoonist and writer for Playboy.

Many people who are familiar with Shel Silverstein's work don't realize that he never planned to write for children. Ursula Nordstrom, an editor at Harper & Row (now HarperCollins), encouraged him to write children's poetry after reading some of his work intended for an adult audience. She believed his unique voice would appeal to children across the world, even though he initially disagreed. Once his first book was published, however, Shel Silverstein discovered this genre was a good fit for his literary talents.

Traditionally, aspiring writers are told that the best way to polish their skills is to continually read the work of others who they admire. Shel Silverstein never followed this advice. He studied music briefly at Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, but never formally studied writing. In fact, he admits he seldom read any poetry. His style, an intriguing blend of childish innocence and adult humor, is entirely of his own creation.

Shel Silverstein loved to travel, but was fairly reclusive when it came to publicizing his work. He rarely agreed to media interviews and was reluctant to answer too many questions about his personal life. Even his answers to questions about his creative process were often evasive.

Although he is best known for his work writing children's poety, Shel Silverstein was also a talented playwright, songwriter, and recording artist. In 2002, he was posthumously inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Books by Shel Silverstein

Collectively, books by Shel Silverstein have sold over 18 million copies and been translated into more than 20 different languages. You can find books by Shel Silverstein at any public library or bookstore. In many cases, they are among the most popular titles in the children's section.

Children's books written by Shel Silverstein include:

  • Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back (1963)
  • A Giraffe and a Half (1964)
  • The Giving Tree (1964)
  • Who Wants a Cheap Rhinoceros? (1964)
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974)
  • The Missing Piece (1976)
  • A Light in the Attic (1981)
  • The Missing Piece Meets the Big O (1981)
  • Falling Up (1996)
  • Draw a Skinny Elephant (1998)
  • Runny Babbit (2005) (published posthumously)
  • Don't Bump the Glump! and Other Fantasies (2008, originally published in 1964)

As a writer and avid book collector, Shel Silverstein insisted on being closely involved with the preparation of his manuscripts. He wanted to be able to choose the type, size, shape, color, and quality of the paper his poems were published on. He refused to allow any of his books to be published in paperback because he felt it diminished the experience of reading his work.

Personal Life

Shel Silverstein was married briefly to Susan Hastings, but the union ended in divorce shortly after his daughter Shoshanna (Shanna) was born June 30, 1970. Susan passed away in 1975. Shanna was raised by her aunt and uncle, Meg and Curtis Marshall, until she passed away from a cerebral aneurysm at the age of 11 on April 24, 1982. A Light in the Attic is dedicated to Shanna.

Shel Silverstein's son Matthew was born on November 10, 1983. Falling Up is dedicated to Matt and Sarah, the woman believed be his mother.

Additional Information

You can learn more about Shel Silverstein and his work by visiting the following helpful Web sites:

For a complete Shel Silverstein biography, consider reading A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein by Lisa Rogak.

Shel Silverstein Biography