Maurice Sendak, the author of the iconic children's book Where the Wild Things Are, died today at the age of 83, after complications from a recent stroke.
There are a million ways to remember Sendak today, from reading Wild Things or In the Night Kitchen or Outside Over There to watching the movie of Where the Wild Things Are, which Spike Jonze made in 2009 in close collaboration with Sendak. One of the easiest to do at work today, though, may be listening to his last interview on NPR's Fresh Air, from last fall. The ostensible subject is his book Bumbleardy, but Sendak-- with a clear affection for host Terry Gross that he also clearly didn't extend to most people-- talks about most everything.
Famously cranky and often solitary, especially after the recent death of his partner of 50 years, Eugene Glynn, Sendak was a uniquely difficult children's icon, assiduously avoiding a cuddly reputation that might have made his books sell more. If you want a clear example of this, and an even more recent interview that proves how sharp and biting he was so late in his life, check out this interview from The Colbert Report in February this year, in which he calls Newt Gingrich an idiot "of great renown" and admits he likes children "as few and far between as I do adults, and maybe a bit more, because I really don't like adults, at all."
It's hard to explain exactly what it was about Sendak's books that struck such a chord with children-- of every generation, my own and my parents' and kids being born today-- except that they weren't like anybody else's. Max, who starts the Wild Rumpus in Where The Wild Things Are after misbehaving in his real life, is every child's fantasy of escape, of going somewhere where you're understood, you're accepted, you can fashion your own crown and make your own rules-- and most importantly, where you can leave and come home and be taken care of again. It's all there in the final, stirring lines from the book, which of course are only more powerful with the pictures:
“And [he] sailed back over a year
and in and out of weeks
and through a day
and into the night of his very own room
where he found his supper waiting for him
and it was still hot”
What could be better than that?
Though he lived closeted for much of his life, at a time when children's book authors were unlikely to be accepted as gay, and he was never hesitant to admit to and explore the darker sides of the world, Maurice Sendak lived a full life by any measure. In the last decade alone, a time when so many people take a step back from life and give up, he's written two new books, collaborated on writing and designing operas with Tony Kushner, and of course helped Jonze make Where the Wild Things Are, creating a friendship he called "a miracle" in Jonze's documentary about him, Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak. That film is available from Oscilloscope Laboratories, the company founded by the recently parted Adam Yauch, and you can watch it in its entirety embedded below.
Maurice Sendak will be missed, but his work is so thoroughly embedded into our culture, it's hard to imagine he'll ever really be gone at all.