Maurice Sendak, the man widely considered to be the most important children’s author of the 20th century, has died aged 83 from complications following a recent stroke.
Sendak was known for writing and illustrating more than a dozen picture books, most notably Where the Wild Things Are – a groundbreaking tale exploring childhood imagination, published by Harper and Row in 1963.
The book was adapted several times, including an animated short in 1973 (with an updated version in 1988); a 1980 opera; a 300-page novelisation by Dave Eggers, and a live-action feature-film adaptation, directed by Spike Jonze, in 2009.
The story focuses on Max, a young boy who argues with his mother after making ‘mischief’ dressed in a wolf suit. Sent to bed without supper, Max’s imagines himself in a wild forest where he overcomes a tribe of terrifying monsters, eventually becoming their king. Max soon grows homesick and lonely however and returns home to find his supper waiting for him on the table.
Despite being only 338-words long, Where The Wild Things are has gone on to sell over 10 million copies worldwide.
Other titles written and illustrated by Sendak include: In the Night Kitchen and Outside Over There - both part of a trilogy with Where the Wild Things Are - The Sign on Rosie’s Door, Higglety Pigglety Pop!, and The Nutshell Library - a four volume set comprising Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup With Rice, One Was Johnny and Pierre.
Much of Sendak’s work focused on childhood imagination, particularly the raw, often dark, impulses of children brought to life via dreams.
Despite a long history of dark children’s tales, including celebrated works by the Brothers Grimm and Lewis Carroll, Sendak found his work censored and criticised in some quarters for destroying the innocence of post-World War Two children.
Alongside fellow authors, Sendak drew inspiration from musicians and painters in his work but it was his father, who used to embellish Bible stories with additional ‘racy’ details, who formed an early influence. However, Sendak himself admitted that his imagination was first truly fired aged 12, when he watched Walt Disney's animated classic Fantasia.
Sendak has been quoted as saying, “My gods are Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson and Mozart. I believe in them with all my heart.”
“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.”
”When Mozart is playing in my room, I am in conjunction with something I can't explain…I don't need to. I know that if there's a purpose for life, it was for me to hear Mozart.“
However, in January this year, Sendak revealed to Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report declared himself to be somewhat less-enamored by ebooks.
“Fuck them is what I say, I hate those e-books. They can not be the future… they may well be… I will be dead, I won’t give a shit!”
Sendak revealed himself to be gay in an interview with the New York Times in September 2008, saying he had never told his parents.
“All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew,” he said.
The obituary of his partner, psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn, revealed the couple had been together for 50 years.
A posthumous picture book, My Brother’s Book – an illustrated poem inspired by his late brother Jack — will be published in February 2013.
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