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Shel Silverstein: Biography, Poems & Books

Instructor: Bryanna Licciardi

Bryanna has received both her BA in English and MFA in Creative Writing. She has been a writing tutor for over six years.

The work of Shel Silverstein has sold millions of copies and been translated into many languages. Read about how he got his start, as well as what makes his writing so popular.

Biography

Sheldon Allan Silverstein (soon to be known to the world as Shel Silverstein) was born on September 25, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois. He very quickly grew a reputation for being a unique artist and writer.

Shel Silverstein photo

After a few failed attempts at college, Silverstein joined the army where he became the cartoonist for the military newspaper Pacific Stars and Stripes. His cartoons grew so popular, in fact, that after he returned to Chicago, he published them into books. Playboy's Hugh Hefner took a keen interest in him and sent Silverstein on international trips to create his illustrative travel reports called 'Shel Silverstein Visits….'

His success gave him plenty of connections that would eventually lead to his success in other fields, like songwriting. His songs have been performed by singers like Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, and Bob Dylan. In the 1960s, Silverstein was encouraged to try his hand at writing for children. He found great success with books like The Giving Tree (1964) and Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974).

Silverstein's very short marriage to Susan Hastings led to the birth of his daughter Shoshanna in 1970. Silverstein's life was not without tragedy, however; Susan died before their daughter's fifth birthday. Because of Silverstein's nomadic, untethered lifestyle, Shoshanna was raised by her aunt and uncle. Sadly, she died in 1982, at the age of 11, from an aneurysm. Silverstein had his second child, Matthew, a year later and was seen making a much grander effort to be a part of his life than he did with his daughter.

In Key West, Florida, on May 10, 1999, Silverstein died from a heart attack. Poet, artist, singer, and songwriter, his work has collectively sold over 20 million copies and been translated into over 30 languages.

Signature of Silverstein
Silverstein signature

Poetry

Though Silverstein never studied poetry, he had a knack for it. Silverstein's colloquial tone and fun use of slang made for a unique style that drew in children and adults alike. His imagination and playful rhymes made up such poetry collections as Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974), The Light in the Attic (1981), and Falling Up (1996).

Silverstein's visions continue to capture the imagination of both children and adults. His work can be seen as a call to hope and invites readers to come along on a journey back to the possibilities that existed in their childhood. His admiration for the innocence of a child's imagination is thematically prevalent throughout Silverstein's poetry.

'Where the Sidewalk Ends' by Shel Silverstein

There is a place where the sidewalk ends

And before the street begins,

And there the grass grows soft and white,

And there the sun burns crimson bright,

And there the moon-bird rests from his flight

To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black

And the dark street winds and bends.

Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow

We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And watch where the chalk-white arrows go

To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,

For the children, they mark, and the children, they know

The place where the sidewalk ends.

Books

Like his poetry, Silverstein's books are just as imaginative and intriguing. The Giving Tree (1964), one of his most famous books, is now considered a classic, despite his difficulty getting it published. Many publishers felt it too sad for children and that the boy and the tree's love seemed abusive, but Silverstein proved them wrong. It has since made the Publishers Weekly 'All-Time Best Selling Children's Books' and sold millions of copies.

Silverstein's other books include Lafcadio: the Lion Who Shot Back (1963), Don't Bump the Glump!: and Other Fantasies (1964), The Missing Piece (1976), and Runny Babbit (published posthumously in 2005).

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

(an excerpt)

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