Maurice Sendak, genius extraordinaire

Maurice Sendak was born in Brooklyn in 1928 to Polish Jewish immigrants. He claims that his childhood was not a happy one. Not only was he a sickly child, but his whole family was deeply affected–ruined even– by the Holocaust.

His career (in a nutshell): He knew at the age of 12 that he wanted to be an illustrator. By the age of twenty, he had his first illustrations published, and by the 1950s, he was working full time as a free-lance illustrator for children’s books. Sendak had both authored and illustrated four of his own books before he reached international acclaim with his first real success, Where the Wild Things Are. Published in 1963, the book initially encountered a negative reaction from parents: the monsters’ fangs were too big, they were grotesque, etc. But after awhile, children’s attraction to the story could not be ignored, and it proceeded to receive the Caldecott Honor in 1964. Sendak went on to both write and/or illustrate a number of incredibly successful books including In the Night’s Kitchen, Higglety Pigglety Pop!, Outside Over There (his own personal favorite), and Chicken Soup With Rice. He is probably one of the most recognized names in illustrated children’s books today.

Now: Maurice Sendak is still writing and illustrating. His most recent book is Bumble-Ardy, the story of a pig’s party gone awry. He says he is also woking on a book about a nose. Life, though, holds its challenges. In 2007, his partner of 50 years, Eugene Glynn, passed away. The author frequently and candidly expresses his loneliness and sadness at this loss. In fact, Sendak, at the age of 83, is candid about almost everything. Some may even perhaps call him sardonic. But if they do, they couldn’t help but also call him clever. And even magical. The UK Guardian published a long interview with Sendak in October of last year, and it really gives a nice picture of a man with human struggles and the humorous take on life that let him get through them. If you want to read the whole thing, it’s here

For a little taste of it, and for Sendak’s humor and temperament, I leave you with a few quotes from the interview:

Sendak has lived here [Connecticut] for 40 years – until recently with his partner Eugene, who died in 2007; and now alone with his dog, Herman (after Melville), a large alsatian who barges to the door to greet us. ‘He’s German,’ says Sendak. Sotto voce, he adds: ‘He doesn’t know I’m Jewish.'”

“‘I can’t believe I’ve turned into a typical old man. I can’t believe it.’ He smiles and his face transforms. ‘I was young just minutes ago.'”

And my personal favorite, “‘I refuse to lie to children,’ Sedak says. ‘I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence.'”  

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