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William (H.) Steig (1907-2003) Biography

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for SATA sketch: Born November 14, 1907, in New York, NY; died October 3, 2003, in Boston, MA. Cartoonist, illustrator, and author. Steig was best known as an award-winning cartoonist for the New Yorker and as the author of children's books such as Abel's Island and Shrek. The son of European immigrants who encouraged their son to be an artist, Steig attended City College (now of the City University of New York) in the early 1920s and the National Academy of Design in New York City from 1925 to 1929. But he was not the most enthusiastic of students; his time at Yale University lasted only six days. However, Steig found early success as an artist and was able to easily support his parents and siblings in his first year as a professional after being hiredbythe New Yorker in 1930. He did single-panel cartoons featuring his characteristic squiggly-lined drawings and clever one-liners. Steig was unique in that he emphasized the drawings over the writing, something that ran counter to what cartoonists had been doing until then. More milestones occurred in 1936 for Steig, including his abandonment of one-liner cartoons and his exploration into wood sculpting (he had his first exhibition in 1939) and a series of what he called "symbolic drawings," which were his attempts to express emotions and states of mind visually. These drawings were later incorporated into merchandise ranging from cocktail napkins to playing cards. The artist has also been credited with influencing the greeting card business by employing humor that bordered on the rude, rather than writing the usual sweet and endearing messages. Steig started publishing collections of his cartoons as early as 1932, the year he released Man about Town, which was followed by many more such books, including collections of his New Yorker work in Small Fry (1944) and William Steig: Drawings (1979), as well as collections of his symbolic drawings in such works as About People (1939) and All Embarrassed (1944). A new facet of Steig's career began when fellow New Yorker cartoonist Bob Kraus persuaded Steig to write his first children's book. The result was 1968's CDB! Steig discovered he had a natural gift for writing and illustrating juvenile books, and he thus embarked on a successful career that included award-winning books such as Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1969), Amos and Boris (1971), Dominic (1972), The Real Thief (1973), Gorky Rises (1980), Doctor De Soto Goes to Africa (1992), and Shrek! (1993), the last of which was made into a blockbuster, computeranimated film. His last book to be published was the auto-biographical When Everybody Wore a Hat (2003), which focuses on his childhood years. Steig's awards are almost too numerous to list, but include such prizes as the Caldecott Medal, the Christopher Award, the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, and the National Book Award.



St. James Guide to Children's Literature, fifth edition, St. James (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Independent (London, England), October 7, 2003, p. 16.

Los Angeles Times, October 5, 2003, p. B16.

New York Times, October 6, 2003, p. A17.

Times (London, England), October 8, 2003.

Washington Post, October 6, 2003, p. B5.

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