The author and illustrator of classics like Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree has a posthumous collection out this month, Every Thing On It
"There's a great myth about cartoonists, writers and people that are on TV. People are always giving you credit for really wanting to say more than you said. People say, 'Boy, when you were on TV, I bet you really could have said a lot if they'd have let you,' or 'Gee, I'd like to see the cartoons that the magazine doesn't print.' This is bullshit. What you've got to say, you say. It's always a nice feeling, having people think that you feel things much deeper than you're allowed to say, but this isn't true. If you want to find out what a writer or a cartoonist really feels, look at his work. That's enough."
–Shel Silverstein, 1963
Shel Silverstein, who died in 1999 and would have celebrated his 81st birthday later this month, was a prolific perfectionist. As he said in an interview with the US Army newspaper Stars & Stripes in 1968, children's books, poetry, and songwriting appealed to him the most because "I can write a poem in 10 minutes. I like writing songs, I can write songs in 5 or 10 minutes. My concentration seems very short." This, combined with a work ethic that inspired him to work daily, even scribbling on napkins when writing materials weren't readily available, spurred Silverstein to produce over 1,000 published songs—including classics like "A Boy Named Sue," "The Unicorn," and "The Cover of the Rolling Stone," as well as more ribald material—and hundreds of poems and verses for children in bestselling collections like Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. (HarperCollins, his longtime publisher of record, has sold more than 29 million Silverstein books in the more than 45 years he or his estate has had a business relationship.)
Feverish productivity, however, contrasted with the drive to get everything just right. The same year of Silverstein's Stars & Stripes interview, his longtime editor at HarperCollins precursor Harper & Row, Ursula Nordstrom, started sending missives to him about when the manuscript for what would eventually become Where the Sidewalk Ends would be ready. It took another six years, several missed deadlines, and many more terse messages from Nordstrom before the book was published.