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October 3: William Steig

October 3, 2013

WilliamStig_workCartoonist, sculptor and children’s book author William Steig died in Boston at 95 on this date in 2003. He drew cartoons for The New Yorker for more than 70 years and produced some 120 of the magazine’s covers. At age 61, he produced his first of more than 25 children’s books, including Roland the Minstrel Pig (1968); Gorky Rises (1980); Doctor DeSoto (1982), a National Book Award winner; and Shrek (1990), which became the basis for a hit movie series. Steig’s parents were socialists who “didn’t want their sons to become laborers,” Steig said, “because we’d be exploited by businessmen, and they didn’t want us to become businessmen, because then we’d exploit the laborers. Since we couldn’t afford to study professions, we were encouraged to be artists.” He was a devoted believer in Wilhelm Reich’s therapeutic techniques and “Orgone box” gizmos, and illustrated one of Reich’s books, Listen, Little Man!, in the 1950s. Steig’s own chidren’s books were sardonic, honest, and engaged with subjects like thwarted hopes, self-delusion, foolishness, and dignity. As for his cartoons, wrote John Updike, they “do not only deliver a joke but make us reflect upon the nature of reality. There is a psychological and philosophical resonance in Steig that has long set him apart . . .”

“For some reason, I’ve never felt grown up.” —William Steig