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Shel Silverstein's Earliest Works
Everyone has to start somewhere. In the case of Shel Silverstein, known to almost all as an author of children’s fare such as A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends and known to a great many more as a songwriter, playwright, cartoonist, and longtime court jester of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy empire, he began his career in the usual way–a contributor to his college newspaper. Although Shel didn’t graduate–the Army had other plans for him–he attended Roosevelt College in downtown Chicago in the early 1950s. He didn’t start out there, either, after having been “thrown out” from the University of Chicago, Navy Pier following a year’s worth of desultory studies. Roosevelt proved to be more of a home to a man of Shel’s ability, as he not only found a professor, Robert Cosbey, who inspired him along with many other English students, but allowed for the opportunity to work for the Roosevelt Torch, a newspaper of sharp opinion and biting humor that entertained the student masses.

I’d known about the Roosevelt connection for some years, having chanced upon it in interview snippets, speaking with Shel’s friends, and most importantly, reading about his experiences in the lengthy interview published in 1963 by Aardvark Magazine. “The Aardvark Interview”, as it is now customarily known, demonstrates both Silverstein’s antipathy for the college while illuminating his enthusiasm for the paper:

I was on the Roosevelt Torch, and that was exciting. . .We were getting paid at the time too, but when I was there we had no money. There was a nice typewriter, though. It was a very old typewriter, so I accepted the typewriter in lieu of twenty-five dollars. The editor was doing the best he could with the staff he had, so what if he was paying off in typewriters? He had more typewriters than he had money. They weren’t very good. It was an exciting time.”   

After making an enquiry with the then-editor of the Torch in mid-2000 verifying the existence of Shel’s contributions on microfilm, I resolved to seek them out for myself. Unfortunately, the opportunity did not arise until February 2003, when I was in the Chicago area for an unrelated matter. Luckily, my plan came to fruition, and I now present, for perhaps the first time in over 50 years, Shel Silverstein’s very first published works.

  See Shel's first published cartoon!  ===>