Shel Silverstein Biography

Just by perusing a Shel Silverstein biography we can see that Shel has proven to be a man of many creative talents. He is in all essence of the word a "storyteller". Whether it be through music, poetry, prose or a stage play, Shel is there presenting us with a story.

While this site is primarily focused on presenting relevant information on children's books, the Shel Silverstein biography, touches on all aspects of his career in which Shel does create some works for grownups.

Obtaining enough information to write a Shel Silverstein biography is not easy, since Shel kept his private life –well, private. Out of the three Shel Silverstein biographies that I read to help gather the data presented here on this page, only one contained a substantial amount of helpful information, Who Wrote That? Shel Silverstein by Elisa Ludwig (recommend ages 12 and up).

Shel Silverstein Biography

Shel was born September 25, 1930 to working class parents, Nathan and Helen Silverstein. He and his sister, Peggy, grew up in the immigrant community of Logan Square in Chicago, Illinois.

As a boy, Shel dreamed of becoming a professional ballplayer for his favorite team, the Chicago White Sox. He spent most of his youth trying to avoid household chores and instead concentrating his efforts on drawing and baseball. It wasn't long before Shel realized that he wasn't a great athlete and he would have to settle for being a devoted fan instead of a ballplayer.

As a teenager, Shel attended Roosevelt High School. Although interested, he was not very popular with the girls. With little athletic talent he hoped the girls would take notice of his artistic talents. Shel spent most of his time drawing pictures. With no real role models or teachers to study art from, Shel had the freedom to develop his own style.

After high school Shel attended University of Illinois, to study art. Due to poor grades, Shel was expelled after one year. He transferred to the Chicago of Fine Arts but lasted only a year there as well. Eventually, he ended up at Roosevelt University, to study English. It was here that Shel was able to put his talents to use, contributing to the student paper, the Torch.

Alas, Shel would be forced to leave college without a degree, yet again. This time Shel was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. Shel would later look at his college years as a waste of time; time that could have been better spent, as he puts it, "traveling around Europe meeting people, or going to the Far East of Africa or India, meeting people, exchanging ideas, reading all you wanted to anyway, and instead I wasted it at Roosevelt." (Aardvark magazine, 1963 interview)

Shel spent his time in the Army working as a cartoonist and a reporter for the Pacific edition of the Stars and Stripes publication. Even though, he was not considered a "model soldier", often poking fun at the military and the officers in his cartoons, Shel would look back at his days in the Army with fondness and as an opportunity for him to grow as an artist.

Returning home to Chicago after serving his term in the Army, Shel became a hot dog vendor at Comiskey Park, while doing freelance cartooning work. About a year later, Shel met Hugh Hefner, and got a job cartooning for a gentleman's magazine. It is here that Shel also got the opportunity to travel as he would report stories for the magazine from all over the world.

After a car accident shattered his leg, Shel was forced to stop traveling for a few years to recover. He spent his time on his cartoons and began writing music. Shel Silverstein recorded his first album, Hairy Jazz in 1959.

We are now approaching the time where Shel becomes more familiar with us children's book fans. While Shel never sought out a career in writing children's books, in fact the thought never even occurred to him, the same could not be true for his friend, Tomi Ungerer.

Tomi brought Shel to meet his editor Ursula Nordstrom. Together Tomi and Ursula convinced Shel to try his hand at writing a children's book. Shel, as we all now know, would prove his friends right in their predictions of his success as a children's book author.

Thank you, Tomi and Ursula!

Below is a timeline of significant events in Shel Silverstein's life and multiple creative careers.

Shel Silverstein Biography - Timeline:

September 25, 1930

  • Born in Chicago, Illinois to parents Helen and Nathan Silverstein


  • Shel's first cartoon is published in the Torch, a school paper for Roosevelt University


  • Shel was Drafted into the Army and began work as a cartoonist and reporter for the Pacific edition of the military publication, Stars and Stripes


  • Grownup Book, Take Ten, published


  • Shel works as a Cartoonist and travel reporter for Playboy


  • Shel recorded his first Album, Hairy Jazz released


  • Grownup Book, Now Here's My Plan: A Book of Futilities, published


  • Grownup Book, Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book, published


  • Album, Inside Folk Songs, released


  • Shel's first Children's Book, Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back, published
  • Grownup Book, A Playboy's Teevie Jeebies, published


  • Children's Book, A Giraffe and a Half, published
  • Children's Book, The Giving Tree, published
  • Children's Book, Who Wants a Cheap Rhinoceros? , published
  • Children's Book, Don't Bump the Glump! , published


  • Album, I'm So Good I Don't Have to Brag released


  • Album, Drain My Brain released


  • Album, Shel Silverstein, released


  • Album, Dirty Feet, released


  • Grownup Book, More Playboy's Teevie Jeebies, published
  • Shel writes song, "A Boy Named Sue" for Johnny Cash and won a Grammy for the hit song.


  • Album, Inside Shel Silverstein, released
  • Shel had a daughter, Shoshanna, with his girlfriend Susan Hastings.
  • Shel wrote the score for motion picture, Ned Kelly


  • Shel wrote the score for motion picture, Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Such Terrible Things About Me?


  • Album, Freakin' at the Freakers Ball, released
  • Album, Sloppy Seconds, released


  • Children's Book, Where the Sidewalk Ends, published and
  • Wins the New York Times Outstanding Book for Children Award


  • Susan Hastings, the mother of Shel's daughter, dies suddenly in Baltimore, Maryland


  • Children's Book, The Missing Piece, published


  • Shel wrote the score for motion picture, Thieves


  • Grownup Book, Different Dances, published


  • Album, The Great Conch Train Robbery, released


  • Children's Book, A Light in the Attic published
  • Children's Book, The Missing Piece Meets the Big O published
  • Wins the School Library Journal Best Books for Children Award
  • Play, The Lady or the Tiger Show, performed


  • Shel's eleven year daughter, Shoshanna dies of a brain aneurysm in Baltimore, Maryland


  • Play, Gorilla and Wild Life performed


  • Play, Remember Crazy Zelda? Performed
  • Shel wins a Grammy for his recording of Where the Sidewalk Ends
  • Shel's son Matthew is born


  • Play, The Happy Hour performed
  • Play, The Crate performed
  • Play, One Tennis Shoe performed
  • Play, Wash and Dry performed
  • Play, Very Very Serious Plays performed


  • Play, Happy Endings performed
  • Play, Empty Room performed


  • Album, Things Change released


  • Play, The Devil and Billy Markham performed


  • Play, Hamlet performed
  • Shel wrote the score for motion picture, Postcards From the Edge


  • Play, New Living Newspaper performed


  • Children's Book, Falling Up published


  • Play, The Trio performed

May 10, 1999

  • Shel Silverstein dies of heart failure in Key West, Florida, at the age of 68

Usually when we read biographies we look forward to the fun stories of the subject's personal life, their hopes, successes and failures; we look for the stuff we can relate to. While there is very little of these personal stories to be found in the Shel Silverstein biography, we hope you were able to find what you were looking for here..

Shel Silverstein Biography Books

Here are the Shel Silverstein biography books I read to put together this page:

  1. Who Wrote That? Shel Silverstein by Elisa Ludwig
    I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a comprehensive Shel Silverstein biography. Reading level for ages 12 and up.

  2. Shel Silverstein by Cari Meister
    I recommend this Shel Silverstein biography for ages 8 and up. Simple in text and written in chronological order of the events in Shel's life, this book is a good one for children.

  3. Meet Shel Silverstein by S. Ward
    This Shel Silverstein biography basically gives you the pertinent dates and facts. Also, you will find some story synopsis's of a couple of his books. The information provided in this book is not broken up in a chronological order but, rather into different career categories. I would suggest a reading level of ages 8 and up for this biography book.

Just for added fun, below we have included a kind of video Shel Silverstein biography that we found online research. The video is a slideshow of pictures of his books, music albums and of Shel himself. The audio for the video slideshow is Johnny Cash singing, A Boy Named Sue, the song Shel wrote for him.

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