Maurice Sendak 1928-2012
Even with far more time and attention than I have right now it wouldn't possible to
do justice to Maurice Sendak with this post.
Sendak passed yesterday, at the age of 83, following a stroke. His career spanned
65 years and nearly 100 books as well as notable work in other media. You can find a timeline of his life and creations at the website of The Rosenbach Museum & Library, whose director also offers a nice remembrance of that Philadelphia institution's relationship with the Brooklyn-born Sendak. (If you're ever in town, I recommend a visit to the place — its collection includes a large repository of Lewis Carroll memorabilia, James Joyce's handwritten manuscript to Ulysses, and "over 10,000 Sendak objects, including original drawings, preliminary sketches, manuscripts, photographs, proofs, and rare prints of Sendak books." Don't forget to sample the incunabula!) [Note: The links specific to Sendak no longer lead to where they once
did, unfortunately, nor does the Rosenbach still house his papers.]
My first memory of reading Sendak was an encounter with his creepy, compelling
1963 masterpiece Where the Wild Things Are in first grade at 5 or 6 years old. Truth
be told, I may have more of an affinity for 1970's In the Night Kitchen — inspired by Winsor McCay's classic comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland and, given its allusions to the Holocaust and mortality, arguably even darker than Wild Things — perhaps due to my pull towards word balloons, captions, and panel-to-panel continuity versus the full-page picture with text common to most children's books.
Yet Where the Wild Things Are remains so haunting, reverberating backwards and forwards through time into everything from Peter Pan to Calvin and Hobbes, that it's still what I and everyone else associate indivisibly with Sendak. Sendak himself turned it into an opera with Oliver Knussen, it was adapted into an animated short, and a few years ago it became the basis for a live-action feature film directed by Spike Jonze that
I quite liked but which understandably divided the book's fanbase.
Neil Gaiman has posted a journal entry on Sendak that includes a link to a two-page strip done by Sendak and Art Spiegelman for The New Yorker in 1993, which Gaiman impressed upon the magazine to unlock for non-subscribers. I don't know how long it will be available, so you should check it out now, as it's a real treat to see Sendak draw his best-known creations into the background while his and Spiegelman's cartoon avatars converse so frankly.
Illustration from Where the Wild Things Are © 1963 Maurice Sendak.