Over the past few days, Maurice Sendak’s name and many accolades in his honor have been on the air and in print due to his death on Tuesday at the age of 83. I don’t have much to add to those surveys of his life and career, so I will link to a few of them below.
But I can add that, though I hadn’t dwelled on Sendak in years, he was a great influence on me, and I was in the very large camp of enthusiasts about his work. The New York Times obituary notes that his “books were essential ingredients of childhood for the generation born after 1960 or thereabouts, and in turn for their children,” and I was one of those children (born exactly in 1960). For many long years–long after I moved on from story-hour childhood–I had a Sendak poster on my wall—the one with Max swinging from the trees with his monster friends. I still have it tucked away somewhere, those nightmares and dreams of childhood put away but not forgotten.
It strikes me, too, that Sendak was a person after my own heart and in keeping with the themes of this blog. He was indeed a Joyous Crybaby, one who brought the sorrows of children into the light and made it okay, even imperative, to acknowledge them. It’s hard to imagine how it is that so many children have loved this quality in his work for so many years and yet so many adults have grown up to retreat into a hyper-cheerful denial with their memories of childhood’s insights buried all too far in the closet. Sendak believed in the “rightness of children’s perceptions,” and he has often noted how the demons of his own childhood—the Great Depression, World War II and the Holocaust, the kidnapping of the Lindberg baby, and his own experience of measles, pneumonia, and scarlet fever at a young age—did not go unnoticed in his own psyche. If, as Sendak’s work has always asserted, children can and do face the demons in their world, shouldn’t adults be able to acknowledge their existence, too?
Sendak was a touchstone of genuine emotion. He will be sorely missed.
Washington Post (contains numerous good links to other commentary)