EVEN when someone has hit their 80s, it can be hard to think of them disappearing if they're as ornery and vital as Maurice Sendak. Famously cranky and contrary, he was also a giant of 20th century literature, and it's with great sorrow that The Misread City says goodbye to the writer and artist, who died today in Connecticut.
I spoke to Sendak just once, for my story on Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are. I've spoken to a lot of people over the years, but this was a rare thrill: I'd grown up with that book, In the Night Kitchen, and other stories of his, I'd started to realize as I got deeper into children's lit, what a revolutionary force he'd been in moving the field past its patriots-and-pastoral phase. And right around that time, I was reading my son, almost every night, a book he called Where the WILD Things Are.
"I didn't have a social conscience that I was doing anything different," Sendak, 81, told me. Mostly, the Brooklyn-born illustrator, then in his early 30s, was excited to tackle his first full picture book. "It was all my own and in full color. It's hard to imagine now, with everyone doing them. But emancipating children was far from my mind."
My story gets into the effect Sendak had on the field as well as the culture as a whole.
Here is his obituary from the New York Times. Rarely has it seemed more appropriate to say of an artist that his work will live on. I know what I'll be reading my son tonight.
Update: A big-picture appreciation by the very fine book critic Dwight Garner of the New York Times.