Sheldon Allan Silverstein (Shel Silverstein — September 25, 1930 – May 10, 1999) is an American poet, playwright, performer, recording artist, lyricist, singer, cartoonist, screenwriter, author of children’s books.
Shel Silverstein - Early Life
Shel Silverstein was born in a Jewish family on 25th September 1930 in Chicago, Illinois to Nathan Silverstein and Helen Silverstein. His second wife Sarah Spencer (Key West, Florida), was the inspiration for his song ‘The Great Conch Train Robbery’. On the 10th of May 1999, Silverstein died of heart attack at the age of 68 in Key West, Florida; and he was buried in Westlawn Cemetery, Norridge, Illinois.
Born during the time of Great Depression, Silverstein had a difficult childhood. His first journey as a cartoonist started for the military newspaper, ‘Pacific Stars and Stripes’, and later covered various journals, until it found repose in Playboy.
Silverstein’s editor at Harper & Row, Ursula Nordstrom, encouraged Silverstein to write children’s poetry. Having no idea of the style of poetry (from his own confessions that he had not read any poems by others), he developed his own way of writing that was not only original but also unique. His style was quirky and profane, simple and serious, and silly and grave at the same time. He won many a heart and had a fan following across the globe.
The giving tree
The giving tree is one of the successful children books in the Astronomical record. The giving children books are translated into French before 10 years. The rare creation of Silverstein includes the giving tree book and A Light in the Attic poem.
Awards and Accolades
Shel Silverstein was the recipient of two Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, Academy Award nominee, Oscar nominee – songwriter.
- Silverstein’s A Boy Named Sue won a Grammy Award (1970)
- He was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his song I’m Checkin’ Out in the film Postcards from the Edge.
- The musical audio cassette Where the Sidewalk Ends(1983) won the Grammy Award for Best Recording for Children in 1984.
- He was posthumously inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame in 2014.
His works have the credit of being translated into more than 30 languages and have sold over 20 million copies.
Shel Silverstein’s Modern Classics
- Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back (1963)
- The Giving Tree (1964)
- A Giraffe and a Half (1964)
- The Missing Piece (1976)
- The Missing Piece Meets the Big O (1981)
Shel Silverstein’s Poems
- Where the Sidewalk Ends (Michigan Young Readers Award – 1974)
- A Light in the Attic (School Library Journal Best Books Award – 1982)
- Falling Up (1996)
- Don’t Bump the Glump! And Other Fantasies (1963&2008)
- Runny Babbit (noted for spoonerisms)
The prime ten poems of Shel Silverstein has been detailed in our article Top 10 Best Unforgettable Poems of Shel Silverstein.
- Tompall Glaser’s Put Another Log on the Fire
- One’s on the Way and Hey Loretta (1971 & 1973)
- 25 Minutes to Go
- A Boy Named Sue (Grammy, 1970)
- The Unicorn
Co-written with Kris Kristofferson:
- The Taker
- Father of a Boy Named Sue, a sequel to A Boy Named Sue’
- Marie Laveau which he wrote with Baxter Taylor received 1975 BMI Award
- Underwater Land album (2002), collaborated with Pat Dailey, was a posthumous release containing 17 children’s songs with art by Silverstein.
Many of Silverstein’s lyrics were used by various musicians and got included in their bands too:
1. Dr. Hook (an American rock band):
- The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone’
- Freakin’ at the Freakers’ Ball
- Sylvia’s Mother
- The Things I Didn’t Say
- Don’t Give a Dose to the One You Love Most
2. Bobby Bare (an American singer):
- Rosalie’s Good Eats Café
- The Mermaid
- The Winner
- Warm and Free
- Tequila Sheila
3. Silverstein’s ‘The Ballad of Lucy Jordan’ was recorded by
- Dr. Hook (1975)
- Marianne Faithfull (1979)
- Belinda Carlisle (1996)
- Bobby Bare (2005)
- Also got featured in the films Montenegro and Thelma & Louise
4. Three-Legged Man by
- Steve Goodman
- Ray Stevens
5. Queen of the Silver Dollar in the albums of
- Dr. Hook (Sloppy Seconds- 1972)
- Doyle Holly (Doyle Holly-1973)
- Barbi Benton (Barbi Doll -1974)
- Emmylou Harris (Pieces of the Sky– 1975)
- Dave & Sugar (Dave & Sugar – 1976)
Silverstein as a Music Composer
Silverstein was a versatile musician who could handle instruments guitar, piano, saxophone and trombone with ease.
- The soundtrack of Ned Kelly (a 1970 movie) features Silverstein songs performed by Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and others
- He dedicated the Hills of Shiloh to the Civil War, which was recorded by The New Christy Minstrels, Judy Collins, Bobby Bare and others
- He wrote Hey Nelly Nelly, a rousing 60s-era folk song recorded by Judy Collins.
Silverstein in Radio Shows
- Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout, Would Not Take The Garbage Out
- The Smoke-Off
- Stacy Brown Got Two
- Boa Constrictor (1962), also featured in Johnny Cash’s album Everybody Loves A Nut (1966)
In honor of the great composer, Bobby Bare and his son Bobby Bare Jr produced a CD –Twistable, TurnableMan: A Musical Tribute to the Songs of Shel Silverstein (2010).
Silverstein’s Theatrical Contribution
Look, Charlie – A Short History of the Pratfall (1959), a comedy was staged by Silverstein.
He wrote more than 100 one-act plays. Some of them are “One Tennis Shoe”, “Bus Stop”, “Going Once”, “The Best Daddy”, “The Lifeboat is Sinking”, “Smile”, “Watch and Dry”, “Thinking Up a New Name for the Act”, “Buy One, Get One Free”, “Blind Willie and the Talking Dog”.