Maurice Sendak, the author and illustrator behind classics like Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, died today at age 83, leaving behind an incomparable and enormous body of work. Since the news of his death, bits and pieces of his life — quotes, drawings, videos, illustrated envelopes — have been circulating around the internet; we've collected them here in one place.
Sendak on Death
"I have nothing now but praise for my life. I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more. ... What I dread is the isolation. ... There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready."
Sendak on Fan Mail
A little boy... sent me a charming card with a little drawing. I loved it. I answer all my children's letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, "Dear Jim: I loved your card." Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, "Jim loved your card so much he ate it." That to me was one of the highest compliments I've ever received. He didn't care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.
Well, when a kid writes to me—as a kid did write to me—and says: "I hate your book. I hope you die soon. Cordially." Well, the combination of "I hope you die soon" and "cordially" is wonderful. It shows how bewildering the whole thing was to her—and to me.
She was allowing herself to hate. "I hate your book." But she'd learned in school that you're supposed to end your letter with the words "cordially" or "best wishes." And so they combine both without thinking there's something goofy in such a thing. But that's their charm, and that's what we lose by growing up—lose, lose, lose. And if we're lucky, it happens again when we're old. And I'd like to believe that it is happening to me. Things that were so wonderful to me come back now. And I'm so grateful—because I wouldn't know how to start otherwise. But it's happening.
Meryl Streep reads The Sign on Rosie's Door during an 80th birthday celebration for Sendak at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.
Sendak on Other Artists
He loves Middlemarch, although "Daniel Deronda, oy gevalt! She put aside her hard hat and was determined to be sweet and understanding. That won't get you anywhere, honey."
And with that he's off again. Of Salman Rushdie, who once gave him a terrible review in the New York Times, he says: "That flaccid fuckhead. He was detestable. I called up the Ayatollah, nobody knows that." Roald Dahl: "The cruelty in his books is off-putting. Scary guy. I know he's very popular but what's nice about this guy? He's dead, that's what's nice about him." Stephen King: "Bullshit." Gwyneth Paltrow: "I can't stand her."
I have a little tiny Emily Dickinson so big that I carry in my pocket everywhere. And you just read three poems of Emily. She is so brave. She is so strong. She is such a sexy, passionate, little woman. I feel better.
Art has always been my salvation. And my gods are Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Mozart. I believe in them with all my heart. And when Mozart is playing in my room, I am in conjunction with something I can't explain.
Where the Wild Things Are
[Editor Ursula Nordstrom] was this torrential woman, passionate woman, who could spot talent 10 miles away. I had no education. I did not go to art school. My drawing was so crude. I had shines on shoes like in Mutt 'n' Jeff in Walt Disney. And she saw through that monstrous crudity and cultivated me, really made me grow up. And then, it was time to do my own picture book.
And I came to her with a title that was "Where the Wild Horses Are." And she just loved that. It was so poetic and evocative. And she gave me a contract based on "Where the Wild Horses Are." And then, it turned out after some very few months to her chagrin and anger, I couldn't draw horses. The whole book would have to be full of horses to make the book make sense.
And when I tried a number of things, I remember the acid tones. She said, "Maurice, what can you draw?" Okay. Cause she was investing in a full color picture book. That was an enormous thing back then.
And so, I thought well things, things. Could be anything I could draw without negotiating things I can't draw. And then, we were at... someone had died. My brother, sister and I were sitting shiva, the Jewish ceremony.
And all we did was laugh hysterically. I remember our relatives used to come from the old country, those few who got in before the gate closed, all on my mother's side. And how we detested them. The cruelty that children... you know, kids are hard.
And these people didn't speak English. And they were unkempt. Their teeth were horrifying. Nose... unraveling out of their hair, unraveling out of their noses. And they'd pick you up and hug you and kiss you, "Aggghh. Oh, we could eat you up."
And we know they would eat anything, anything. And so, they're the wild things. And when I remember them, the discussion with my brother and sister, how we laughed about these people who we of course grew up to love very much, I decided to render them as the wild things, my aunts and my uncles and my cousins. And that's who they are.
You asked me how "revolutionary" Where the Wild Things Are is. There have been a good many fine picture books in the past. (Some by Margaret Wise Brown, and illustrated by one of two or three or four talented artists.) But I think Wild Things is the first complete work of art in the picture book field, conceived, written, illustrated, executed in entirety by one person of authentic genius. Most books are written from the outside in. But Wild Things comes from the inside out, if you know what I mean. And I think Maurice's book is the first picture book to recognize the fact that children have powerful emotions, anger and love and hate and only after all that passion, the wanting to be "where someone loved him best of all." [...] it just seems to me that Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are goes deeper than previous picture books.
My God, Max would be what now, forty-eight? He's still unmarried, he's living in Brooklyn. He's a computer maven. He's totally ungifted. He wears a wolf suit when he's at home with his mother!
Here's Really Rosie, Sendak's 1975 animated TV special. Carole King, who wrote the music, stars as Rosie, an imaginative would-be actress. In 1980, the special was turned into an Off-Broadway production.
Sendak on Children
I knew a little girl who told her parents — because her school was close by the twin towers when it happened — and she told her father that she saw the butterflies coming out of the windows. And only later said: "They weren't butterflies. They were people." But she lied, at first, to make him more comfortable. And that's what kids do — they are immensely courageous. And they sacrifice a lot. And they try to play mute and dumb because — well, it's kind of the expectation of their parents.
That's what all the fairy tales are all mostly about — about the vulnerability of children and how they figure out tricks and ways of living in the world and making up parents. Make-believe parents. And I think that's probably one of the hardest jobs in the world. Being a parent, and not succumbing to failure. I think people should be given a test much like driver's tests as to whether their capable of being parents! It's an art form. I talk a lot. And I think a lot. And I draw a lot. But never in a million years would I have been a parent. That's just work that's too hard.
Part two of Sendak's wildly popular interview with Stephen Colbert.
Sendak on His Final Book, Bumble-Ardy
This is obviously the work of a man who has dementia... But I'm very happy with it.
President Obama, reading Where the Wild Things Are to schoolchildren earlier this year.