Sheldon Alan "Shel" Silverstein (September 25, 1930 – May 10, 1999) was an American poet, singer-songwriter, musician, composer, cartoonist, screenwriter, and author of children's books. He sometimes styled himself as Uncle Shelby, especially for his early children's books.
The phrase "Renaissance man" tends to get overused these days, but apply it to Shel Silverstein and it practically begins to seem inadequate. Not only has he produced with seeming ease country music hits and popular songs, but he's been equally successful at turning his hand to poetry, short stories, plays, and children's books. Moreover, his whimsically hip fables, beloved by readers of all ages, have made him a stalwart of bestseller lists. A Light in the Attic, most remarkably, showed the kind of staying power on the New York Times chart — two years, to be precise — that most of the biggest names (John Grisham, Stephen King, and Michael Crichton) have never equaled for their own blockbusters.
And there's still more: his unmistakable illustrative style is another crucial element to his appeal. Just as no writer sounds like Shel, no other artist's vision is as delightfully, sophisticatingly cockeyed.
One can only marvel that he makes the time to respond so kindly to his friends' requests. In the following work, let's be glad he did. Drawing on his characteristic passion for list making, he shows how the deed is not just in the wish but in the sublimation.
Silverstein confirmed that he never studied the poetry of others and therefore developed his own quirky style: laid-back and conversational, occasionally employing profanity and slang.
“I think that if you’re truly creative, you can work in certain related fields of creativity, but then there are others that are beyond you. For instance, a man who works well with words might work as a writer and as a poet and as a lyricist. But if he tried to work in sculpture, he might get absolutely nowhere. And a guy who is very visual might easily work in painting and drawing, could also work in costume design, if he leaned that way, could work in stage setting, and in those related fields. I do believe that a person who is truly observant in one of the arts will be truly observant and sensitive in the others as well, but it’s his ability to express these things that would limit him. I believe that a man who is a sensitive painter is sensitive to life, and therefore would be sensitive as a writer or as a storyteller, but having the ability to write is something more than merely seeing. Having the ability to paint is something more than merely seeing the colors, seeking the form. It’s in execution, in skill.”
~ Shel Silverstein (1963) in an interview with Aardvark magazine.
Silverstein believed that written works needed to be read on paper—the correct paper for the particular work. He usually would not allow his poems and stories to be published unless he could choose the type, size, shape, color, and quality of the paper himself. Being a book collector, he took seriously the feel of the paper, the look of the book from the inside and out, the typeface for each poem, and the binding of his books. He did not allow his books to be published in paperback because he did not want his work to diminish in any way.