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Jack Prelutsky

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Mrs. McKeown's Poetry

Biographical Information:

Jack Prelutsky was born on September 8, 1940, in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in a working-class neighborhood made up of Jewish, Irish and Italian families. He lived in a six-story apartment building with his father, mother and brother.

By the time he was ten, he was considered a talented singer. He was paid to sing at weddings and other events. Many thought he would some day become a star. He considered opera until heard Pavarotti. "Then I heard Pavarotti. I knew I could never compete with him. He had a little piece of gold up here," he says pointing to his own throat.

Jack attended New York public schools and he studied voice at the high school of Music and Art. He enrolled in Hunter College in Manhattan but left soon after enrolling.

As he grew up, he couldn't stand poetry. He grew up in a tough neighborhood where poets were thought of as sissies and he was turned off to poetry in school.

Jack tried a lot of different occupations before he found poetry. He tried photography, folk singing, making pottery and sculpting, to name a few. He also tried drawing; he thought he might want to be an artist.

He spent about six months creating drawings that he wanted to submit to be published. Before he displayed them, he decided to add a poem to each one. When it came time to show the drawings, he was rejected by the first publisher. The second told him they wished to publish him, but they didn't want to publish the drawings; it was the poetry they were interested in. He credits Susan Hirschman for his discovery. Jack said, "She published my first book, and 30 years later, she's still my editor."

By the time he was in his twenties, he found that poetry had become a way to communicate. "I think kids need instantaneous expression", said Prelutsky. He wanted to write "fresh, contemporary poems with humor as the basic ingredient." His poetry almost always contains humor and nonsense.

Jack writes poetry from the child's perspective. He says, "I just never grew up. Or the part of me didn't-- that remembers my childhood." He writes from experiences using his family, events and friends in his writing. He encourages a budding poet to; "Start out writing about the things closest to you. Write about yourself, your home, your family, your pets. Then branch out, and write about your neighborhood, your relatives, and your school. Don't begin writing about another solar system, because you have never been there. Write about what you know, the other stuff will come later."

He now lives in Washington State with his wife Carolynn. He travels the country speaking and conducting seminars. Jack has limited his touring to bookstores. When he would tour in the schools it would take a lot out of him physically and he would end up getting sick. Prelutsky says, "I love writing, I like travel, I like people, I like seeing how kids are growing through what we do."

Along with Shel Silverstein, he has been credited with the revival of children's poetry. He brings humor and joy to the printed page. He has been writing poetry for close to 40 years and has more than four dozen books for children.

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Poet Study-Jack Prelutsky

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