William Steig

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William Steig
William Steig.jpg
Steig in 1944
Born(1907-11-14)November 14, 1907
New York City, U.S.
DiedOctober 3, 2003(2003-10-03) (aged 95)
OccupationIllustrator, writer
Years active1930–2003
Notable work
Elizabeth Mead Steig
(m. 1936; div. 1949)
Kari Homestead
(m. 1950; div. 1963)
Stephanie Healey
(m. 1964⁠–⁠1966)
Jeanne Doron
(m. 1968)
Children3; including Jeremy[1]
Parent(s)Joseph Steig, Laura Ebel Steig
AwardsCaldecott Medal
National Book Award
CINE Golden Eagle

William Steig /ˈstɡ/[2] (November 14, 1907 – October 3, 2003) was an American cartoonist, illustrator and writer of children's books, best known for the picture book Shrek!, which inspired the film series of the same name, as well as others that included Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Abel's Island, and Doctor De Soto. He was the U.S. nominee for both of the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Awards, as a children's book illustrator in 1982 and a writer in 1988.[3]

Early life[edit]

Steig was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1907, and grew up in the Bronx. His parents were Polish-Jewish immigrants from Lemberg, Austria-Hungary; both socialists. His father, Joseph Steig,[4] was a house painter, and his mother, Laura Ebel Steig, was a seamstress who encouraged his artistic leanings. As a child, he dabbled in painting and was an avid reader of literature. Among other works, he was said to have been especially fascinated by Pinocchio. In addition to his artistic endeavors, he also did well at athletics, being a member of the collegiate All-American water polo team. He graduated from Townsend Harris High School at 15 but never completed college, though he attended three, spending two years at City College of New York, three years at the National Academy of Design and a mere five days at the Yale School of Art before dropping out of each.[5]


Hailed as the "King of Cartoons",[6] Steig began drawing illustrations and cartoons for The New Yorker in 1930, producing more than 2,600 drawings and 117 covers for the magazine. One of his cartoon characters, Poor Pitiful Pearl, was made into a popular line of dolls starting in 1956.[7]

Later, when he was 61, Steig began writing children's books.[8] In 1968, he published his first children's book. He excelled here as well, and his third book, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1969), won the Caldecott Medal.[9] He went on to write more than 30 children's books, including the Doctor De Soto series, and he continued to write into his nineties. Among his other well-known works, the picture book Shrek! (1990) formed the basis for the DreamWorks Animation film Shrek (2001). After the release of Shrek 2 in 2004, Steig became the first sole-creator of an animated movie franchise that went on to generate over $1 billion from theatrical and ancillary markets after only one sequel.[10]

When asked his opinion about the movie based on his picture book Shrek, William Steig responded: “It’s vulgar, it’s disgusting — and I loved it.”[11]

In 1984, Steig's film adaptation of Doctor De Soto, directed by Michael Sporn, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

Also in 1984, Steig received the CINE Golden Eagle Award in Education[12] for the film adaptation of this book.

Personal life and death[edit]

Steig married four times and had three children. From 1936 to 1949, Steig was married to educator and artist Elizabeth Mead Steig (1909–1983, sister of anthropologist Margaret Mead),[13] from whom he was later divorced. For a time, Steig lived at 75½ Bedford Street, purported to be the narrowest house in Manhattan.[14] Steig's first marriage also made him a brother-in-law of Leo Rosten[13] and an uncle of Mary Catherine Bateson.[15] Steig and Mead were the parents of jazz flutist Jeremy Steig (playing the Pied Piper in Shrek Forever After)[16] and a daughter, Lucinda. He married second wife Kari Homestead in 1950, and they had a daughter, Margit Laura (now professionally known as Maggie Steig).[17] After their divorce, he was married to Stephanie Healey from 1964 to 1966. His final marriage, to Jeanne Doron, endured for the rest of his life.

His brother Irwin was a journalist and painter, for whom William illustrated two books on poker strategy. His brother Henry was a jeweler and a writer who played the saxophone and painted. And his brother Arthur was a writer and poet, who, according to Steig, read The Nation in the cradle, was telepathic and "drew as well as Picasso or Matisse".[18]

Steig died of natural causes in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 3, 2003, aged 95.[19] Shrek 2, which was released seven months after his death, was dedicated to his memory.[4]


  • 1932, Man About Town (New York: R. Long & R.R. Smith)
  • 1939, About People: A book of symbolical drawings by William Steig (Random House)
  • 1941, How to Become Extinct (Farrar & Rinehart), written by Will Cuppy, illustrated by Steig
  • 1942, The Lonely Ones (Duell, Sloan and Pearce)
  • 1944, All Embarrassed (Duell S&P)
  • 1944, Small Fry (Duell S&P)
  • 1945, Persistent Faces (Duell S&P)
  • 1946, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (Simon & Schuster) by Eric Hodgins
  • 1947, Till Death Do Us Part: Some ballet notes on marriage (Duell S&P)
  • 1948, Listen, Little Man! (Orgone Institute Press) by Wilhelm Reich – translated from the German-language essay "Rede an den kleinen Mann", 1945
  • 1950, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody by Will Cuppy
  • 1950, The Agony in the Kindergarten (Duell S&P)
  • 1950, Giggle Box: Funny Stories for Boys and Girls (Alfred A. Knopf), compiled by Phyllis R. Fenner, newly illustrated by Steig
  • 1951, The Rejected Lovers (Knopf)
  • 1953, Dreams of Glory and other drawings (Knopf)
  • 1959, Poker for Fun and Profit (McDowell, Obolensky, 1959), written by Irwin Steig, illustrated by William Steig
  • 1963, Common Sense in Poker (Cornerstone, 1963), written by Irwin Steig, illustrated by William Steig
  • 1963, Continuous Performance (Duell S&P)

From this time, Steig primarily created children's picture books.

  • 1971, Amos and Boris
  • 1972, Dominic — NBA finalist[20]
  • 1973, The Real Thief
  • 1974, Farmer Palmer's Wagon Ride
  • 1976, Abel's Island — adapted as a 1988 film
  • 1976, The Amazing Bone
  • 1977, Caleb + Kate — NBA finalist[20]
  • 1978, Tiffky Doofky
  • 1979, Drawings
  • 1980, Gorky Rises
  • 1982, Doctor De SotoNational Book Award, Picture Books[22]
  • 1984, CDC? (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
  • 1984, Ruminations
  • 1984, Yellow & Pink
  • 1984, Rotten Island (formerly The Bad Island, 1969)
  • 1985, Solomon, The Rusty Nail
  • 1986, Brave Irene
  • 1987, The Zabajaba Jungle
  • 1988, Spinky Sulks
  • 1990, Shrek! — the basis for the movie series
  • 1992, Alpha Beta Chowder, written by Jeanne Steig, illustrated by William Steig
  • 1992, Doctor De Soto Goes to Africa
  • 1994, Zeke Pippin
  • 1996, The Toy Brother
  • 1998, A Handful of Beans: Six Fairy Tales, retold by Jeanne Steig, illustrated by William Steig
  • 1998, Pete's a Pizza
  • 2000, Made for Each Other
  • 2000, Wizzil
  • 2001, A Gift from Zeus
  • 2002, Potch & Polly
  • 2003, When Everybody Wore a Hat


  1. ^ Wolff, Carlo (February 7, 2014). "Jeremy Steig: Flute Fever (2013)". All About Jazz.
  2. ^ Rosenberg, Karen (2007). "Ogres for All Ages". The New York Times. Retrieved June 19, 2017. … Steig (pronounced with a long i and a hard g).
  3. ^ "Candidates for the Hans Christian Andersen Awards 1956–2002" Archived September 27, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. The Hans Christian Andersen Awards, 1956–2002. IBBY. Gyldendal. 2002. Pages 110–18. Hosted by Austrian Literature Online (literature.at). Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Boxer, Sarah (October 5, 2003). "William Steig, 95, Dies; Tough Youths and Jealous Satyrs Scowled in His Cartoons". The New York Times. Retrieved November 15, 2010. Corrected October 7 and 27.
  5. ^ Boxer, Sarah (November 29, 1997). "Wry Child of the Unconscious; William Steig, 90, on Art, Life and the Mysterious Orgone". The New York Times. Retrieved June 15, 2008.
  6. ^ Nahson, Claudia J.; Sendak, Maurice; Cottingham, Robert; Sorel, Edward; Steig, Jeanne; Steig, Maggie (November 1, 2007). The Art of William Steig. New York: Yale University Press, in associate with the Jewish Museum. ISBN 978-0-300-12478-1.
  7. ^ "Poor Pitiful Pearl & Her Creator, William Steig".
  8. ^ Puig, Claudia (May 30, 2001). "'Shrek!' author exclaims his approval of film". USA Today. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
  9. ^ "Caldecott Medal & Honor Books, 1938–Present". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). American Library Association (ALA).
      "The Randolph Caldecott Medal". ALSC. ALA. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  10. ^ "The Numbers - Where Data and the Movie Business Meet". The Numbers. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
  11. ^ "The man behind Shrek". The Seattle Times. August 10, 2008. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
  12. ^ "cine.org" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 28, 2011. Retrieved October 20, 2010.
  13. ^ a b Banner, Lois W. (2010). Intertwined Lives: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Their Circle. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 9780307773401.
  14. ^ Gray, Christopher (November 10, 1996). "For Rent: 3-Floor House, 9 1/2 Ft. Wide, $6,000 a Month". The New York Times. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  15. ^ Brinthaupt, Thomas M.; Lipka, Richard P. (2002). Understanding Early Adolescent Self and Identity: Applications and Interventions. SUNY Press. ISBN 9780791453346.
  16. ^ Keepnews, Peter (June 3, 2016). "Jeremy Steig, Flutist Who Bridged Jazz and Rock, Dies at 73 (Published 2016)". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 26, 2018.
  17. ^ Lodge, Sally (August 22, 2013). "FSG Issues William Steig E-books". Publishers Weekly.
  18. ^ Boxer, Sarah (November 29, 1997). "Wry Child of the Unconscious; William Steig, 90, on Art, Life and the Mysterious Orgone". The New York Times.
  19. ^ "Cartoonist Steig Dead at 95". Studio Briefing. October 7, 2003.
  20. ^ a b c Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Dominic, and Caleb + Kate were finalists for the National Book Award, Children's Literature.
    "National Book Awards – 1970". National Book Foundation (NBF). Retrieved February 8, 2012. (Select 1970, 1973, and 1978 from the top left menu.)
  21. ^ "Rotten Island". Library of Congress Catalog Record. Retrieved April 19, 2014.
  22. ^ Doctor Dr. Soto shared a National Book Award in category Picture Books during the brief time (1980–83) there were multiple children's awards, including Picture Books in 1982 and 1983.
    "National Book Awards – 1983". NBF. Retrieved February 22, 2012.

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