Chicago writers – Shel Silverstein

Like most kids of the last 40 or so years, I loved Shel Silverstein’s poems. His books were a must buy through that glorious institution, the Scholastic Book Fair. The poems were hilarious, the artwork great, and the hardcover books themselves were beautiful. I regularly read all the classics – The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and A Light in the Attic. As a kid I assumed these were the only books he wrote. It wasn’t until years later I found out just how prolific and diverse his work was. And I also never knew he was from Chicago.

Born on September 25, 1930, Silverstein’s family was living near Humboldt Park at the time at 1458 N. Washtenaw Avenue. His father and uncle started a bakery named Silverstein Brothers at 2601 Walton Street, later moving it to 834-38 N. Western Ave. and renaming it the Service Cake Company.

While Shel was attending Darwin Elementary at 3116 W. Belden Ave., his family moved to 2853 W. Palmer Street, in Logan Square. He would go on to attend Roosevelt High School at 3436 W. Wilson Ave in Albany Park, and the University of Illinois. (While he apparently claimed to have attended UIC, he actually went to UI Urbana-Champaign.) After a year there he returned to the city to study at what is now the Art Institute, and then transferred to Roosevelt University, drawing cartoons for The Roosevelt Torch from 1950-1953.

Drafted into the Army, he returned to the city, selling hot dogs at Comiskey Park and trying to become a cartoonist. Unsuccessful, he sought work at a newly launched magazine, Playboy, where he would go on to become head cartoonist. Silverstein was also a song writer and was known to hang out at the Gate of Horn folk club, in the basement of the Rice Hotel. Now a parking lot, it was located at 755 N. Dearborn.

While he would go on to leave the city, spending his later years in Key West, Florida, his final resting place is just outside of Chicago at Westlawn Cemetery in Norridge.

Chicago remains proud to claim Silverstein as one of their own, honoring him in 2009 with an event called SHELebration: A Tribute to Shel Silverstein, held on Millennium Park’s 5th birthday. Additionally, in 2014 he was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.

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