Steig, William (H.) 1907-

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STEIG, William (H.) 1907-

PERSONAL: Born November 14, 1907, in New York, NY; son of Joseph (a housepainter) and Laura (a seamstress; maiden name, Ebel) Steig; married Elizabeth Mead, January 2, 1936 (divorced); married Kari Homestead, 1950 (divorced, 1963); married Stephanie Healey, December 12, 1964 (divorced, December, 1966); married Jeanne Doron, 1969; children: (first marriage) Lucy, Jeremy; (second marriage) Margit Laura. Education: Attended City College (now City College of the City University of New York), 1923-25; National Academy of Design, New York, NY, 1925-29.

ADDRESSES: Home—301 Berkeley St., #4, Boston, MA 02116.

CAREER: Freelance cartoonist contributing mainly to the New Yorker, 1930—; author and illustrator of children's books, 1968—. Worked for various advertising agencies. Sculptor. Exhibitions: Artwork has been exhibited at Downtown Gallery, New York City, 1939, Smith College, 1940, and has been included in collections at the Rhode Island Museum, Smith College Museum, and Brooklyn Museum.

AWARDS, HONORS: Children's Book of the Year nomination, Spring Book Festival picture book honor, National Book Award, and Boston Globe-Horn Book honor, all 1969, American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book designation and Caldecott Medal, both 1970, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1978, all for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble; National Book Award, New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of the Year, New York Times Outstanding Book, and ALA Notable Book designation, all 1971, and Children's Book Showcase title, 1972, all for Amos and Boris; Christopher Award, 1972, National Book Award, 1973,Boston Globe-Horn Book honor, ALA Notable Book designation, and William Allen White Children's Book Award, Kansas State College, all 1975, all for Dominic; New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year and ALA Notable Book designation, both 1973, for The Real Thief; Children's Book of the Year nomination and ALA Notable Book designation, both 1974, for Farmer Palmer's Wagon Ride; New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year, 1976, Newbery Honor Book, Children's Book Showcase title, ALA Notable Book designation, Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and Boston Globe-Horn Book honor, all 1977, for Abel's Island; Caldecott Honor Book, Children's Book Showcase title, ALA Notable Book designation, and Boston Globe-Horn Book honor, all 1977, and Art Books for Children Award, 1978, all for The Amazing Bone; Irma Simonton Black Award for best children's book, New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book, New York Times Outstanding Book, all 1980, for Gorky Rises; Hans Christian Andersen Medal nomination, 1982; New York Times Outstanding Book, 1982, American Book Award, Parents' Choice illustration award, Boston Globe-Horn Book honor, and Newbery Honor Book, all 1983, and International Board on Books for Young People Honor Book, 1984, all for Doctor De Soto; Children's Picture Book Award, Redbook, 1984, for Yellow and Pink, 1985, for Solomon the Rusty Nail, and 1986, for Brave Irene; New York Times Best Illustrated Book, 1986, for Brave Irene; nomination, Hans Christian Andersen Medal, 1988; Children's Picture Book Award, Redbook, 1988, for Spinky Sulks; Parents' Choice Picture Book Award, and Reading Magic Award, both 1990, both for Shrek!; New England Book Award, 1993.



Man about Town, Long & Smith (New York, NY), 1932.

About People: A Book of Symbolical Drawings, Random House (New York, NY), 1939.

The Lonely Ones, preface by Wolcott Gibbs, Duell, Sloan (New York, NY), 1942.

All Embarrassed, Duell, Sloan (New York, NY), 1944.

Small Fry (collection of New Yorker cartoons), Duell, Sloan (New York, NY), 1944.

Persistent Faces, Duell, Sloan (New York, NY), 1945.

Till Death Do Us Part: Some Ballet Notes on Marriage, Duell, Sloan (New York, NY), 1947.

The Agony in the Kindergarten, Duell, Sloan (New York, NY), 1950.

The Rejected Lovers, Knopf (New York, NY), 1951.

The Steig Album: Seven Complete Books, Duell, Sloan (New York, NY), 1953.

Dreams of Glory, and Other Drawings, Knopf (New York, NY), 1953.

Continuous Performances, Duell, Sloan (New York, NY), 1963.

Male/Female, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1971.

William Steig: Drawings (collection of New Yorker cartoons), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1979.

Ruminations, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1984.

Spinky Sulks, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1988.

Our Miserable Life, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1990.


CDB! (word games), Windmill Books (New York, NY), 1968, revised edition, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2000.

Roland the Minstrel Pig, Windmill Books (New York, NY), 1968.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Windmill Books (New York, NY), 1969, Little Simon (New York, NY), 1995.

The Bad Island, Windmill Books (New York, NY), 1969, revised edition published as Rotten Island, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1984.

An Eye for Elephants (limericks), Windmill Books (New York, NY), 1970.

The Bad Speller (reader), Windmill Books (New York, NY), 1970.

Amos and Boris, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1971, reprinted, Sunburst, 1992.

Dominic, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1972.

The Real Thief, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1973.

Farmer Palmer's Wagon Ride, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1974.

The Amazing Bone, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1976.

Abel's Island, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1976.

Caleb and Kate, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1977.

Tiffky Doofky, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1978.

Gorky Rises, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1980.

Doctor De Soto, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1982.

Yellow and Pink, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1984, reprinted, 2003.

CDC? (word games), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1984, reprinted, 2003.

Solomon the Rusty Nail, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1984.

Brave Irene, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1986.

The Zabajaba Jungle, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1987.

Alpha Beta Chowder, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

Doctor De Soto Goes to Africa, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

Shrek!, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1993.

Pete's a Pizza, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998, published as a board book, 2003.


Zeke Pippin, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.

Collected Drawings, Moyer Bell (Wakefield, RI), 1994.

Grown-Ups Get to Do All the Driving, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

The Toy Brother, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.

Toby, Where Are You?, pictures By Teryl Euvremer, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.

(Illustrator) A Handful of Beans: Six Fairy Tales, by Jeanne Steig, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

(Illustrator) Arthur Yorink's The Flying Latke, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 1999.

Wizzil (children's book), illustrated by Quentin Blake, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.

Made for Each Other, Joanna Cotler Books (New York, NY), 2000.

(Illustrator) A Gift from Zeus: Sixteen Favorite Myths, by Jeanne Steig, Joanna Cotler Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Potch & Polly, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2001.

Sick of Each Other, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

Which Would You Rather Be?, Joanna Cotler Books (New York, NY), 2002.

When Everybody Wore a Hat, Joanna Cotler Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Illustrator of numerous books, including Will Cuppy's How to Become Extinct, Garden City Books, 1941; Wilhelm Reich's Listen, Little Man!, translation by Theodore P. Wolfe, Orgone Institute Press, 1948, reprinted, Octagon Books, 1971; and Irwin Steig's Poker for Fun and Profit, Astor-Honor, 1959. Contributor of cartoons to periodicals, including Collier's, Judge, Life, and Vanity Fair.

Steig's manuscripts are included in the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

ADAPTATIONS: Many of Steig's books have been adapted as filmstrips, including Amos and Boris, Miller-Brody, 1975; Farmer Palmer's Wagon Ride, Miller-Brody, 1976; and Brave Irene, Weston Woods, 1988. Many of Steig's children's books have also been adapted for film, including Doctor De Soto, Weston Woods, 1985; The Amazing Bone, Weston Woods, 1985; Abel's Island, Lucerne Media, 1988; and Brave Irene, Weston Woods, 1989. Doctor De Soto and Other Stories was adapted for read-along cassette, Caedmon, 1985. Shrek! was adapted as an animated feature film, titled Shrek, released in 2001 by DreamWorks SKG, and directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson.

SIDELIGHTS: William Steig, wrote a New York Times reporter in 1997, "is not quite a household name, but his 67-year ink trail is instantly recognizable." As the artist who established himself as one of the twentieth century's most penetratingly observant cartoonists, Steig is perhaps best known as the creator of the acerbic green ogre Shrek, whose adventures were adapted into an Academy Award-winning film in 2001.

Steig's drawings have appeared regularly in the New Yorker since 1930. When he decided to try his hand at writing and illustrating children's books in 1968, he began a second career in which he found equal success, eventually winning the prestigious Caldecott Award and an American Book Award. Growing up in the Bronx, New York, Steig was the son of a house painter and a seamstress, both of whom were Socialists. That led to some discussion in the household concerning career paths: "My parents didn't want their sons to become laborers, because we'd be exploited by businessmen, and they didn't want us to become businessmen, because then we'd exploit the laborers," he told Anita Silvey for Children's Books and Their Creators. The arts seemed to be the path of choice. Among the four Steig brothers, Irwin became a journalist and painter; Henry played saxophone; Arthur had a gift for drawing and reading; and William began developing his cartooning style.

During the pre-Depression jazz age, Steig attended City College (now part of the City University of New York) and the National Academy of Design. He explained in an interview with Michael Patrick Hearn for the Washington Post Book World: "I went to art school because I was given my choice whether to get to work or go to school. What I had in mind at the time was to go to sea when I got the chance—at least for a while. But my father went broke in the crash of '29....Soit devolved on me to find some way to support my family."

That need for quick income led to his first cartoon sale to the New Yorker. He told Hearn, "It showed two guys in prison and one was complaining that his kid was incorrigible and that he couldn't keep him in line." Since that June, 1930, offering, almost every issue of the New Yorker has been "enriched . . . with [Steig's] drawings and cartoons, varied in style and subject, but always comic in their perception, fluent and delicate in their execution," declared a Times Literary Supplement contributor. His cartoons most often illustrate the psychopathology of everyday strife, showing characters that are "'fantastic but recognizable,' as anyone will agree who glances up from them to look around at the occupants of a subway car or of the office where he works," noted a Books reviewer. "That is why they are so cruel and so frightening and so funny."

Collections of Steig's drawings have proven extremely popular, and they indicate the variety of his work. In The Lonely Ones, Steig sketched "impressions of people . . . set off from the rest of the world by certain private obsessions," explained Wolcott Gibbs in the book's preface. All Embarrassed focuses on bewildered adults caught in humiliating situations. Small Fry consists of one hundred drawings, rendered in delicate washes, of children. Whatever his subject or style, critics have consistently cited Steig's work for its piercing insights. A Weekly Book Review critic wrote of All Embarrassed: "As in all the best comic or satiric art, these Steig pictures have a caustic, sobering, and philosophic quality: they call upon introspection and self-judgment. And while they make us laugh or shudder, or see in some hippopotamus-like face or lax torso the fearful likeness of a neighbor, they also do a pretty thorough job of slapping the stuffing out of our own unreasonably cocky little selves.... Steig is . . . a master-hand at x-raying human beings." "I tend to criticize people for caring too much about what they are," Steig once remarked to Hartford Courant interviewer Alison Wyrley Birch.

After almost forty years as "one of our most original and influential cartoonists," in the words of Karla Kuskin in the New York Times Book Review, Steig responded to the urging of a children's book publisher and produced Roland the Minstrel Pig, his first juvenile work. Since then Steig has produced a new children's book almost every year. C D B!, Roland the Minstrel Pig, Amos and Boris, Dominic, Doctor De Soto and the rest of Steig's juveniles have consistently won praise for their rich language, imaginative stories, and delightful illustrations. And in spite of the sardonicism that infuses his adult work, "there is a sweet, gook humor that runs through all his [children's] books," stated Kuskin. "The author of 'People are no damn good,' one of the most famous cartoons of the 1940's, doesn't complain to kids. Giving despair the slip he becomes a benign evangelist for justice, youth and joy."

"Like Isaac Bashevis Singer, E. B. White and a select company of others, Steig is a writer of children's books whose work reaches beyond the specific confines of a child audience," noted James E. Higgins in Children'sLiterature in Education. "[He] has the unusual childlike capacity to present incidents of wonder and marvel as if they are but everyday occurrences. He writes not out of a remembrance of childhood, but out of the essence of childhood which no adult can afford to give up or to deny." The power of luck, the capacity of nature for transformation and rebirth, the existence of beneficial magic; all are a part of this "childhood essence" and are ever-present in Steig's books. Wishes, even unspoken ones, are granted in the author's vision of how the world should be. In The Amazing Bone, the daydreaming Pearl the Pig dawdles on her walk home from school. She discovers a magic bone, lost by a witch who "ate snails cooked in garlic at every meal and was always complaining about her rheumatism and asking nosy questions." That the bone talks is not surprising to our heroine, or even to her parent, and is accepted as a matter of course by the reader.

When the animated blockbuster Shrek was nominated for an Academy Award for "best adapted screenplay" many moviegoers were moved to wonder whence the script was adapted. Shrek the film was based on Steig's 1990 picture book of the same title (though with an exclamation point added). The author/artist reportedly approved of the screen adaptation of the tale of the titular ogre (his name means "fear" in Yiddish) whose nightmares include images of flowery fields and happy children: "some of the children kept hugging and kissing him, and there was nothing he could do to make them stop." In Steig's original telling, the "ugliest guy in town," as Publishers Weekly reviewer Diane Roback called him, hears the prophecy of a witch that he will marry a princess even uglier than he. The ogre's adventures in finding his mate make up the bulk of the tale. Accordingly, Shrek's big love scene with his princess is a wild affair: "Shrek snapped at her nose. She nipped at his ear. They clawed their way into each other's arms. Like fire and smoke, these two belonged together."

As evinced by Shrek! and his other books, positive themes reoccur throughout Steig's works: the abundant world of nature, the security of home and family, the importance of friendship, the strength that comes from self-reliance. Many of the animal characters inhabiting Steig's sunlit world also possess "heroic" qualities; quests, whether in the form of a search for a loved one or for adventure's sake alone, are frequently undertaken. Higgins remarked, "In his works for children . . . [Steig] sets his lens to capture that which is good in life. He shares with children what can happen to humans when we are at our best."

In the opinion of Anita Moss, "Many of Steig's picture books incorporate wish-fulfillment childhood fantasies." Writing for St. James Guide to Children's Writers, Moss elaborated: "An adventurous frog in Gorky Rises concocts a magical potion that enables him to soar to the stars, break free of adult constraints, and yet return home safely with concrete and indisputable proof that his adventures have actually happened. In Doctor De Soto a mouse dentist outwits the crafty fox who poses as a patient. In Solomon the Rusty Nail Steig again features the theme of transformation and the child's concern with identity." In this book Solomon the rabbit makes a hasty wish, turning into a nail to escape the jaws of a hungry cat. But Solomon's plan backfires when the cat nails him to a house; after the house catches fire the rusty nail escapes and turns back into a rabbit, who returns home to his grateful parents. "Change, though terrifying, Steig seems to imply, is finally a good and beneficial thing," Moss commented.

Following the success of the film version of his Shrek!, Steig continued to write and draw. Even into his nineties, the author/artist produced such picture books as Which Would You Rather Be? and Potch and Polly. In the former title, a wand-wielding rabbit entices a girl and boy to decide what they would rather be: a mouse or an elephant, a stick or a stone, lightning or thunder. Every choice comes with its advantages and consequences, reinforcing the theme of choice to young readers.

Steig avoids interjecting political or social overtones to make his books "mean" anything. Human concerns over existence, self-discovery, and death are dealt with indirectly. "I feel this way: I have a position—a point of view," Steig told CA. "But I don't have to think about it to express it. I can write about anything and my point of view will come out. So when I am at work my conscious intention is to tell a story to the reader."

The artist had a brief sojourn into the corporate world working as an advertising illustrator during the 1960s. But he reacted to such artistic restriction, as People reporter Joshua Hammer revealed, "with severe psychosomatic muscle cramps." "Doing advertising was something I couldn't stand to do," the artist told Hammer. "I just hate to follow someone else's impulse." But being his own boss is no less easy. Steig finds writing and illustrating children's books to be much different than drawing cartoons, as he explained to Sally Lodge in Publishers Weekly: "Working for kids is not the same as working for adults. Kids' books take a lot longer. I can do a drawing in 15 minutes. Once my editor, Michael di Capua, approves an idea for a children's book, it takes me about a week to write it and a month to do the illustrations." Steig has always found illustrating to be the most difficult part of his job, and confided to Higgins: "I love to draw, and I love to write—but I hate to illustrate.... When you draw, you draw anything that wants to come out, but when you illustrate you have to draw someone who has on a polka-dot dress. It has to be the same as the previous picture. You have to remember what it says in the story. It's not the way I want to draw at all."



Children's Literature Review, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 2, 1976, pp. 158-161; Volume 15, 1988, pp. 175-202.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 61: American Writers for Children since 1960: Poets, Illustrators, and Nonfiction Authors, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987, pp. 297-305.

Fisher, Margery, Who's Who in Children's Books: A Treasury of the Familiar Characters of Childhood, Holt (New York, NY), 1975.

Kingman, Lee, editor, Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books: 1966-1975, Horn Book (New York, NY), 1975.

Lorenz, Lee, The World of William Steig, Artisan, 1998.

Lanes, Selma G., Down the Rabbit Hole: Adventures and Misadventures in the Realm of Children's Literature, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1971.

Silvey, Anita, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin (New York, NY), 1995.

Steig, William, The Amazing Bone, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1976.

Townsend, John Rowe, Written for Children: An Outline of English-Language Children's Literature, revised edition, Lippincott (New York, NY), 1974.


Booklist, January 1, 1975, November 1, 1994, Lauren Peterson, review of Zeke Pippin, p. 510; April 1, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Grown-Ups Get to Do All the Driving, p. 1393; February 15, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Toy Brother, p. 1027; November 15, 1998, Rochman, review of A Handful of Beans: Six Fairy Tales, p. 589; October 15, 1999, Elaine Hanson, review of Shrek!, p. 466; October 1, 2000, Michael Cart, review of Wizzil, p. 337; May 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Toby, Where Are You?, p. 1693; July, 2001, Lolly Gepson, review of Pete's a Pizza, p. 2027; August, 2002, Michael Cart, review of Which Would You Rather Be?, p. 1977.

Books, January 17, 1943.

Children's Book Review, June, 1973; summer, 1975.

Children's Books, July-August, 1968; December, 1968; November, 1970; April, 1975.

Children's Literature in Education, spring, 1978, pp. 3-16.

Christian Science Monitor, November 11, 1971.

Hartford Courant, September 8, 1974.

Horn Book, August, 1968; August, 1970, pp. 359-363; February, 1972; October, 1972; April, 1975; August, 1975; October, 1975; August, 1976; December, 1976; April, 1977; June, 1977; January-February, 1995, Anna Flowers, review of Zeke Pippin, p. 55; May-June, 1996, Maria Salvadore, review of The Toy Brother, p. 329; November, 1998, Kristi Beavin, review of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, p. 769; January, 1999, review of A Handful of Beans, p. 78; November, 2000, Leonard Marcus, review of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, p. 652; May, 2001, Joanna Rudge Long, review of A Gift from Zeus: Sixteen Favorite Myths, p. 300.

Junior Bookshelf, February, 1972; February, 1973; April, 1973; August, 1973; June, 1975.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2002, review of Which Would You Rather Be?, p. 668/

Life, December 17, 1971.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 5, 1982.

Newsweek, May 15, 1995, Malcolm Jones, Jr., review of Grown-Ups Get to Do All the Driving, p. 60.

New York, December 16, 1974.

New Yorker, December 2, 1974.

New York Times, November 29, 1997, Sarah Boxer, "Wry Child of the Unconscious."

New York Times Book Review, April 21, 1968; February 16, 1969; October 19, 1969; October 17, 1971; July 9, 1972; September 2, 1973; November 10, 1974; July 18, 1976; November 14, 1976; November 13, 1977; November 25, 1979; December 12, 1982; August 12, 1984; November 9, 1986; June 28, 1987, p. 26.

People, December 3, 1984, Joshua Hammer, "With Pen, Ink and the Eye of an Innocent, a Brilliantly Off-Center Writer/Cartoonist Refuses to Surrender to Age," pp. 87-98.

Publishers Weekly, October 15, 1979, pp. 6-7; July 24, 1987, pp. 116-18; September 14, 1990, Diane Roback, review of Shrek!, p. 124; February 20, 1995, review of Grown-Ups Get to Do All the Driving, p. 204; January 15, 1996, review of The Toy Brother, p. 461; July 6, 1998, review of Pete's a Pizza, p. 58; October 5, 1998, review of A Handful of Beans, p. 88; July 3, 2000, review of Wizzil, p. 70; June 25, 2001, review of A Gift from Zeus, p. 73; May 20, 2002, review of Which Would You Rather Be?, p. 64; June 24, 2002, review of Potch and Polly, p. 56.

Saturday Review/World, December 4, 1973.

School Library Journal, September, 1968; May, 1969; September, 1972; November, 1973; August, 2000, Rosalyn Pierini, review of Wizzil, p. 165; February, 2001, Lee Bock, review of Sick of Each Other, p. 140; June, 2001, Patricia Lothrop-Green, review of A Gift from Zeus, p. 181; June, 2002, Carol MacKay, review of Which Would You Rather Be?, p. 110; August, 2002, Joy Fleischhacker, review of Potch and Polly, p. 170.

Time, December 27, 1971; December 17, 1984, Stefan Kanfer, review of CDC?, p. 84.

Times Literary Supplement, September 12, 1980.

Washington Post Book World, May 11, 1980.

Weekly Book Review, July 23, 1944.


Boston Globe, (June 22, 1997), John Koch, author interview.

William Steig Web site, (October 9, 2002).*