Shel Silverstein

From Academic Kids

Shelby Allan "Shel" Silverstein (September 25,1930May 10,1999) was an important American poet, songwriter, composer, cartoonist, screenwriter, and children's writer.

Born in Chicago, Silverstein claimed he never studied the poetry of others, and therefore developed his own style. His style was laid-back and conversational, occasionally employing profanity and recent slang. He wrote with an unaffected, un-self-conscious manner that kept attention focused on the subject matter, not the language.

Silverstein began as a writer and cartoonist for Playboy magazine in 1952, but he is best known for writing and illustrating his children's literature including The Missing Piece, A Light in the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Falling Up and The Giving Tree. He also wrote Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book, a satirical mock children's book, and created Different Dances, a coffee-table book of wordless, adult-themed cartoons.

Silverstein kept a low profile but cast a long shadow. He tended to shun publicity and even photographers. If Silverstein's name had appeared prominently on everything he created, he would be much better known. For example, he wrote the music and lyrics for "A Boy Named Sue", performed by Johnny Cash (for which he won a Grammy in 1970); and "The Unicorn Song", performed by The Irish Rovers. He wrote the lyrics and music for most of the Dr. Hook songs, including "Cover of the Rollin' Stone," "Freakin' at the Freakers' Ball," and "Sylvia's Mother". He wrote many of the songs done by Bobby Bare, including "Rosalie's Good Eats Cafe", "Mermaid", "The Winner", and "Tequila Sheila".

He co-wrote the screenplay Things Change with David Mamet, and was nominated for an Oscar for his music for the film Postcards from the Edge. He also composed original music for several other films (see listing).

Silverstein believed that written works needed to be read on paper, and with the correct paper for the work. He usually would not allow his poems or stories to be published unless he could choose the type, size, shape and color of the paper himself.

He continued to write colloquial poetry on occasion throughout his life, including a rap version of Shakespeare's Hamlet that was published (on yellow-beige specialty paper) in Playboy Magazine in 1998.

Shel Silverstein was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Silverstein died of a heart attack at the age of 68 in Key West, Florida.

In 2005, a previously unpublished collection of poems and illustrations, entitled Runny Babbit, was published. As the title alludes to, every poem and illustration in the book consists of spoonerisms.

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