Sheldon Allan "Shel" Silverstein (September 25, 1932 – May 8/9, 1999), was an American poet, singer-songwriter, musician, composer, cartoonist, screenwriter and author of children's books. He styled himself as Uncle Shelby in his children's books. Translated into more than 30 languages, his books have sold over 20 million copies.
“Whimsical” was one word used to describe Silverstein. But it came with a B-side adjective: “weird.” This was a man who had drawn cartoons for Playboy, and who wrote the lyrics to Johnny Cash’s “Boy Named Sue.”
“A Light in the Attic” spent 182 weeks on the New York Times general nonfiction best-seller list, including 14 weeks at No. 1.
Yet “The Giving Tree” went on to sell 8.5 million copies. It was embraced by Christians as a parable of selflessness and has been denounced by feminists as a patriarchal fantasy in morality-tale clothing.
"That man was such a perfectionist—in the best way possible. He worked so hard, changing a line here, trying a different word there. It always had to be exactly right. He knew that a poem had to work in two ways: when children read it to themselves and when it was read aloud. I learned a lot from him."
Although "he held a clear disdain for celebrity of all stripes," Silverstein lived in the Playboy mansion for two years, and we hear from a friend that, in New York, " 'we'd go to the Limelight to hang out where everybody was famous: Cass Elliott, John Phillips, Bob Dylan, even Joan Rivers. I don't know if you could get in there if you weren't.' "
Apart from his cartoons, Silverstein began writing songs in the country-western style. In 1969 one of these, "A Boy Named Sue," was made a hit for the singer Johnny Cash. In 1980 Silverstein recorded a country music album called "The Great Conch Train Robbery."
In 1974, when he published the collection of poems called "Where the Sidewalk Ends," his work was compared to that of Dr. Seuss and Edward Lear.
Silverstein began writing plays in 1981. One of his best known scripts, "The Lady or the Tiger Show," was a one-act play first produced in New York City in the same year. It was a satire about a game show in which contestants risked their lives by choosing between two doors: behind one is a beautiful woman, and behind the other is a tiger.
Silverstein’s books, which he also illustrated, are characterized by a deft mixing of the sly and the serious, the macabre, and the just plain silly. His unique imagination and bold brand of humor is beloved by countless adults and children throughout the world. He died in May 1999.
He is best known for his many children's stories and poems. Some of his memorable include Uncle Shelby's Story of Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back, The Giving Tree and The Missing Piece.