You can pretty well date yourself by which Maurice Sendak books you had around as a child. I remember an already-tattered copy of A Hole is to Dig that predated me, and a handsome little set of the Nutshell Library that I was given at some point. And even though Where the Wild Things Are was born the same year as I was, it will always be my son’s book. Unlike the venerable Dr. Seuss, Sendak never jumped the shark when he got topical (sorry, I’m just not a Lorax fan). Homelessness, the Holocaust, kidnapping, and the general darkness of childhood in all its scary, exhilarating, fertile forms—everything leapt to life under his pen in the most organic way.
Maurice Sendak died yesterday, at the age of 83, from complications of a stroke. He was by his own account ready to move on, particularly after the 2007 death of his partner of 50 years, Eugene Glynn. But he was still painting, still open to beauty and creativity at the same time he cultivated a carefully curmudgeonly, cranky persona. It was that push and pull of terror and wonder, which lives in us all, certainly, but that he embraced so wholeheartedly, that gave him such a marvelous edge as a children’s author and illustrator. He won a Caldecott Medal in 1964 for Where the Wild Things Are, the Hans Christian Anderson Award in 1970, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal in 1983 for his entire body of work. But his real claim to fame lies in the fact that he touched generations of children and parents with his sweet, dark artwork and stories.
The New Yorker has unlocked a terrific little graphic encounter with Art Spiegelman from 1993. And NPR has posted its series of Fresh Air interviews with Sendak, which are all worth a listen:
You know who my gods are, who I believe in fervently? Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson—she’s probably the top—Mozart, Shakespeare, Keats. These are wonderful gods who have gotten me through the narrow straits of life.
Maurice Sendak was a one-of-a-kind old school gentleman; he will be missed.
(Photo of Sendak and his wild things courtesy of James Keyser/Time Life Pictures/Getty.)