Shel Silverstein was a renowned American writer, poet, and cartoonist who was born in 1930 in Chicago. He was a man of great wit and character and these traits allowed him to express himself in a unique and profound way. Silverstein’s works have captivated both the adult and children’s literature markets, with titles such as ‘Where The Sidewalk Ends’, ‘The Giving Tree’ and ‘A Light In The Attic’ becoming best-sellers and enduring classics. So why did Shel Silverstein become a poet?
An obvious factor was Silverstein’s creative ability. From a young age he exhibited a liking for art and he gained a scholarship to attend the Chicago Art Institute, from which he graduated with a degree in art and writing. He had an affinity for the visual world, and an aptitude for using words to create vivid and memorable imagery. According to reading specialist Harmony Huffman “he had a wonderful way of expressing the emotions and feelings of the characters he wrote about.” This ability to put ideas and feelings into words was pivotal in Silverstein’s decision to pursue a career as a poet.
Silverstein was also driven by a love of language, and had as his primary aim the mission of artistic expression. Silverstein was a great believer in the power of poetry, and his works often reveal deep insight into the human condition. As critic and author Carla Manley wrote in a 2003 article, “His vast vocabulary, allusions to classic literature, and poetic technique form a powerful combination that captivates readers of all ages.” This capacity to communicate a message through rhyme, wordplay and metaphors was an integral part of why Shel Silverstein became a poet.
An additional factor behind Silverstein’s writing success was his basis in reality. He was known for using everyday situations as the basis for stories, and for making ordinary moments special. He connected with children and adults through the stories he told, so much so that his works resonate to this day. According to journalist William R. McGookey, “he was able to convey the wonders of life at any age with his poetry, inspiring generations of readers.” By touching the reader at a personal level, Silverstein was able to share his work with the world.
Clearly, Shel Silverstein had an aura and aptitude for writing, which allowed him to become one of the most renowned authors of his time. It is evident that his love of language and creativity, coupled with an ability to connect people through his works, culminated in Silverstein’s massive success as a poet.
The Creative Mind of Shel Silverstein
Shel Silverstein was renowned for his creativity. He had the unique ability to see into the minds of children and to capture their perspectives in his works. As Silverstein went beyond the ordinary to evoke the seemingly impossible scenarios in poems such as ‘Boa Constrictor’, his readers were captivated. According to Kellie Phelan, author of ‘The Poetry Works of Shel Silverstein’, “Silverstein found alternative sources of energy, inspiration and motivation in his writing, and he strove to create something original.” Silverstein’s talent for translating the unspoken thoughts and dreams of children was among the many reasons why he became a renowned poet.
The expression of vivid stories and imagery was also a hallmark of Silverstein’s work. He produced a body of work that contained the elements of classic storytelling, from concept to characters. According to Kris Johnson of the Poetry Foundation, “Silverstein could take a child’s world and transform it through wordplay and concept.” This was a key factor behind why Shel Silverstein became a poet, as he was able to take relatively simple ideas and escalate them to new heights of creativity.
Silverstein was also known for his distinct voice and style of writing. He possessed an unorthodox approach which resonated with the readers of his time, and his works have stood the test of time. For instance, ‘The Giving Tree’ is still considered an integral part of children’s literature, and a classic of modern American literature; its heart-warming story stands out even today. Silverstein’s unique voice and style allowed him to captivate the emotions and imaginations of his readers.
The Illustrations of Shel Silverstein
Aside from his writing, Silverstein was also a talented artist, and his drawings are just as famous as his words. His illustrations are distinct, rustic and witty, often depicting characters with an oddly child-like quality. His sense of humor and his casual, sketch-like approach were important factors in the success of his work. His illustrations were described by the author S.E. Hinton as “ingenious, imaginative, and sometimes highly stylized.”
Silverstein’s illustrations were often intentionally absurd and absurdly fun, combining with his skill as a writer to create a playful and entertaining picture book. His illustrations gave life to his words and allowed him to express ideas in a multitude of ways. His works were published in over 30 languages and they quickly gained a legendary status among readers of all generations.
Silverstein’s drawings were also milestones in both children’s and adult literature. By conveying the core message of his works through images and by juxtaposing everyday scenes with the surreal, he was able to make a lasting impression that still resonates today.
The Humor of Shel Silverstein
Aside from his writing and drawing skills, Shel Silverstein was also renowned for his humorous nature. He knew how to catch his audience’s attention and hold onto it with wit and humor. His works were often laced with satire and irony, sometimes with the aim of teaching a lesson, and sometimes just for the sake of lighthearted entertainment.
Silverstein’s humorous writing was often surprisingly dark and it often tugged at the reader’s heartstrings. His works often blended humour with moments of sadness and as Phelan writes, “he could find the humor in any situation, no matter how desperate it seemed.” This ability to take a step back and find the humour in a situation, as well as making the reader laugh and think, was critical in Silverstein’s success.
Silverstein was also very theatrical in his humor. He had an iconic style of speaking which he displayed when he recited his works to live audiences. The audience became part of a play in which Silverstein was known to take on different characters and speak in different voices while conveying the message of life and love. Silverstein was able to draw the audience in and touch them in ways no one else could, captivating them with his words and humor.
The Legacy of Shel Silverstein
Shel Silverstein walked among us for only a few decades, from 1930-1999. However, in that relatively short timespan he was able to leave a lasting legacy. Shelfari notes that “His impact on multiple generations of readers with his emotionally charged, childlike works was tremendous.” Silverstein’s works still speak to the hearts and minds of children and adults alike, allowing them to re-experience the joy of childhood that he so masterfully captured.
The popularity of his works is a testament to his talent and it is hard to imagine any other writer having the same success as Silverstein. As Phelan states, “His characters speak to a generation of readers and their