I wanted to do a post in honor of Maurice Sendak, who died today at the age of 83, after a lifetime of writing and illustrating. I grew up reading and loving his books alongside countless other kids around the world, and as an adult grew to appreciate his bizarre and imaginative work even more. However, I feel overwhelmed with the task of citing all the reasons why Sendak’s work was so incredible and why he deserves to be remembered not only as a brilliant writer of children’s books but also as a great artist and creator. So instead I thought I’d post a hodge-podge of Sendak related things, mostly links to some of the articles and interviews Sendak did in the last years of his life in order to let the author speak for himself in his own bristly and humorous voice.
To start out, here is an interview Sendak did with Leonard Marcus published last fall in The Horn Book Magazine, and here is an interview Sendak did with Roger Sutton for The Horn Book Magazine back in 2003, in which he compares writing to deep sea diving and talks about, among other things, Keats, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Homer, the creative process, and his yearning to become plankton. This article written by Dave Eggers for Vanity Fair is accompanied by one of my favorite photos of the author, taken by Annie Leibovitz. This blogger, who’s a big fan of Maurice Sendak and all his books, has a bunch of excellent posts on some of Sendak’s older and lesser known publications. With Sendak’s iconic titles like Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, it’s easy to overlook all the little books he wrote and illustrated that were equally delightful, books like Pierre, Chicken Soup with Rice and Little Bear. Here is a comic by Art Spiegelman about his visit with the author back in 1993, published in The New Yorker. Here is the interview Sendak did this January with Stephen Colbert. Here is a conversation with Sendak from 2005 on All Things Considered. Here is a collection of friends and fellow writers remembering the author in the School Library Journal. And here is Sendak’s editor Ursula Nordstrom describing why Where the Wild Things Are is a revolutionary book.
My favorite Maurice Sendak is probably the spectacularly creepy Outside Over There.
It tells the story of Ida, whose father is away at sea and whose mother leaves her to look after her baby sister. One night, the goblins come and take Ida’s sister, replacing her with a horrifying ice baby. Ida must leave home to rescue her sister from the goblins. Donning her mother’s yellow raincoat, Ida climbs backwards out the window into “outside over there.”
Poor Ida, never knowing, hugged the changeling
and she murmured: “How I love you.”
The ice thing only dripped and stared,
and Ida mad knew goblins had been there.
“They stole my sister away!” she cried,
“To be a nasty goblin’s bride!”
Now Ida in a hurry
snatched her Mama’s yellow rain cloak,
tucked her horn safe in pocket,
and made a serious mistake.
She climbed backwards out her window
into outside over there.
There is something so weird and magical about the detail that Ida shouldn’t have climbed backwards out the window, and the world she encounters once she does is equally eerie and full of magic. To me, this book contains what I love most in Sendak’s work. He creates a world that is full of both beauty and horror together, a world that is at once haunting, colorful, disturbing and delightful, evocative in the way childhood memories often are, blending details from ordinary life with the strange landscape of the imagination.
I admire Sendak for many reasons- for his commitment to a life as a working artist, for his refusal to be categorized (“I don’t write for children. I write. And somebody says, that’s for children.”), for his willingness to mine the depths of his soul for his art, for his honesty, but the reason I will always come back to Sendak’s books is because of that weird and powerful feeling they inspire in me, as if they’ve lit a fuse directly to my imagination. The feelings are often complicated, contradictory, but they are always complex, full of sensory responses and strange intuitions. This is the genius of Sendak’s work, it touches something deep in the unconscious mind, so that no matter the reaction it evokes, I can always be sure it will be illuminating.