Shel ‘The Renaissance Man’ Silverstein

Many people my age think of Shel Silverstein as a children’s Author of both books and poems. But this talented artist had much more humble beginnings than one might think.

Born in Chicago in 1930, Shel began writing at the tender age of 12 and continued to do so as he grew older. Before he’d even discovered other authors of note or practices styles of writing he was developing a style all his own. It was a style that would become famous for clever twists and unique perspectives.

His career is perhaps as interesting as the way he communicates stories and ides. First published in a college newspaper, The Roosevelt Torch, he got a taste of what it was like to share his stories and insights. He continued to do so in the military within the pages of The Stars and Stripes which featured his cartoon series Take Ten.

By 1957 he was one of the most beloved cartoonists contributing to Playboy. There he created 23 installments of Shel Silverstein Visits… in which he would include one of his trademark drawings that included a detailed description through his eyes of the location to which Playboy sent him. This included such places as Chicago for The White Sox training camp and a New Jersey nudist colony. He informed and entertained in his own special way in this serial through the 1960’s.

In a turn of events Shel was asked to try to write children’s books. His style of writing an whimsical verses would perform well in that venue. Better than he’d ever expected in truth. The book The Giving Tree is one of his most famous and cherished books. It has been translated into several languages and is still a top seller today.

Shel also had a hand at writing several now well known lyrics for musicians such as Johny Cash (A Boy Named Sue) and Loretta Lynn (One’s on the Way) as well as several songs for Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show. He had a very large following on Dr. Demento’s radio show where his popular song Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout (Would not Take the Garbage Out) was a huge hit.

He even has theatre credits from Look Charlie : A Short History of the Pratfall which was a comedy staged in 1959. He continued to create over one-hundred short plays. Other notable contributions came through on the big screen when The Ballad of Lucy Jordan was featured in the films Thelma & Louise and Montenegro.

Its true that I will always remember this renaissance man for his children’s books and poems geared for children but there is no denying that poetry was just the beginning of his contributions to the artistic community. His artistic sketches and memorable songs can not be dismissed any more than Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout’s overwhelming pile of refuse.

For me he will always be remembered as the man who convinced a second grader to read for an hour straight when she could barely spell. I still can’t spell but my children know Shel and I have no doubt that their children will as well. He’s a timeless author who’s wit and talents will last us for countless years to come.

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