Now Here’s My Plan…

Poet: Shel Silverstein
Date of Birth: 25 September 1930, Illinois, USA
Nationality: American
Date of Death: 10 May 1999, Florida, USA

Silverstein was a writer known for cartoons, songs, and children’s books. He appeared as Uncle Shelby in some of his work. His books have been translated into over 30 languages and have sold more than 20 million copies. Silverstein grew up in the Logan Square neighbourhood of Chicago and attended Roosevelt High School and the University of Illinois. He was expelled from the university and enrolled in the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts before being drafted into US Army to serve in Japan and Korea.

At the age of seven Silverstein began drawing by tracing the works of Al Capp. He was first published in the student newspaper the Roosevelt Torch. During his military service, his cartoons were published in Pacific Stars and Stripes, where he was assigned to do layouts and paste-up. His first book, Take Ten, was published by Pacific Stars and Stripes in 1955.

On his return to Chicago, Silverstein began submitting cartoons to magazines while also selling hot dogs at Chicago ballparks. His cartoons began appearing in Look, Sports Illustrated and This Week.
Silverstein became a leading cartoonist for Playboy in 1957, which sent him travelling the world to report from far-flung locations creating an illustrated travel journal. His best-known cartoon of the 1950s was the cover of his cartoon collection, ‘Now, Here’s my Plan: A Book of Futilities.’ Silverstein’s cartoons appeared in Playboy from 1957 to the mid-1970s.

Silverstein studied for a brief time at Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. His musical output included a large portfolio of songs written mainly for other artists including Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, Tompall Glaser, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings. He also composed original music for several films such as Ned Kelly. Silverstein had a popular following on Dr. Demento’s radio show and his comedy songs include Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout and I Got Stoned and I Missed It.

In early 1959, ‘Look, Charlie: A short History of Pratfall’ was staged off-Broadway by Silverstein, Herb Gardner, and Jean Shepherd He went on to write over 100 one-act plays. In 2001, Shel’s Shorts was produced in two separate repertory evenings under the title ‘Signs of Trouble’, directed by Wesley Savick, and ‘Shel Shocked’, directed by Larry Coen.

Silverstein lived on a houseboat between 1967 and 1975, and he also owned homes in Greenwich Village, Key West, and Martha’s Vineyard. He never married but it is alleged in the 2007 biography ‘A Boy Named Shel’ that he slept with hundreds, perhaps thousands of women. He was a frequent guest at Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Clubs and the Playboy Mansion.

Silverstein had one daughter, Shoshanna, born in 1970, with Susan Hastings. Susan died on in 1975, the day before Shoshanna’s fifth birthday, and Shoshanna went to live with her uncle and aunt in Baltimore. Shoshanna died in 1982, of a cerebral aneurysm. The book A Light in the Attic is dedicated to her. He also had a son, Matthew, born in 1984, with Sarah Spencer of Florida. Sarah drove a trackless train and inspired Silverstein’s song ‘The Great Conch Train Robbery.’

Silverstein died of a heart attack in 1999 and is buried in Westlawn Cemetery, Norridge, Illinois.

Whatif by Shel Silverstein

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
The nighttime Whatifs strike again!

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