Maurice Sendak 1928-2012
I wish I could do justice to Maurice Sendak with this post, but that wouldn't be possible even with far more time and attention than I have tonight.
Illustration from Where the Wild Things Are © 1963 Maurice Sendak.
Sendak passed away earlier today, at age 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 the Philadelphia institution's relationship with the Brooklyn-born Sendak. (If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit to the Rosenbach, whose collection includes James Joyce's handwritten manuscript to Ulysses, a large repository of Lewis Carroll memorabilia, and "over 10,000 Sendak objects, including original drawings, preliminary sketches, manuscript materials, photographs, proofs, and rare prints of Sendak books." Don't forget to try the incunabula!)
My first memory of reading Sendak was an encounter with his creepy, compelling 1963 masterpiece Where the Wild Things Are circa first grade at 5 or 6 years old. In some ways I have more of an affinity for 1970's In the Night Kitchen — inspired by Winsor McCay's classic comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, arguably in its allusions to the Holocaust and mortality a darker work even than Wild Things — perhaps because I have a natural 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.
Anyone want to share some Sendak memories?
Update: Neil Gaiman has posted a tribute to 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; it's a real treat to see Sendak draw his best-known creations into the background as his cartoon avatar discusses things so frankly with Spiegelman's. Thanks, Neil and New Yorker PTB!