Maurice Sendak

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We've educated children to think that spontaneity is inappropriate.

Maurice Bernard Sendak (10 June 19288 May 2012) was an American writer and illustrator of children's literature.


If children are different from us, they are more spontaneous. Grown-up lives have become overlaid with dross.
When you hide another story in a story, that’s the story I am telling the children.
  • And when he came to the place where the wild things are, they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said, "Be still" and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once. And they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all and made him king of all wild things.
Joseph Campbell once told me long before I met you that one of the great moments in literature is this scene in Where the Wild Things Are … Campbell went and got that and read it to me. And he said, "That is a great moment because it's only when a man tames his own demons that he becomes the king of himself if not of the world."
  • "And now," cried Max, "let the wild rumpus start!"
    • Where the Wild Things Are (1963)
  • Please don't go. We'll eat you up. We love you so.
    • Parting words of the Wild Things to Max in Where the Wild Things Are (1963)
  • Certainly we want to protect our children from new and painful experiences that are beyond their emotional comprehension and that intensify anxiety; and to a point we can prevent premature exposure to such experiences. That is obvious. But what is just as obvious — and what is too often overlooked — is the fact that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.
    • Acceptance speech upon being awarded the Caldecott Medal for Where the Wild Things Are (1964), published in Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books, 1956-65, edited by Lee Kingman (1965)
  • There must be more to life than having everything!
    • Higglety Pigglety Pop! or, There Must Be More to Life (1967)
  • I believe there is no part of our lives, our adult as well as child life, when we're not fantasizing, but we prefer to relegate fantasy to children, as though it were some tomfoolery only fit for the immature minds of the young. Children do live in fantasy and reality; they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do.
    • As quoted in Questions to an Artist Who Is Also an Author : A Conversation between Maurice Sendak and Virginia Haviland (1972) by Virginia Haviland
  • I wanted my wild things to be frightening. But why? It was probably at this point that I remembered how I detested my Brooklyn relatives as a small child. They came almost every Sunday, and there was my week-long anxiety about their coming the next Sunday... They'd lean way over with their bad teeth and hairy noses, and say something threatening like "You're so cute I could eat you up." And I knew if my mother didn't hurry up with the cooking, they probably would.
    • As quoted in The Art of Maurice Sendak by Selma G. Lanes (1980)
  • You cannot write for children... They're much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them.
    • As quoted in Boston Globe interview (4 January 1987)
  • We've educated children to think that spontaneity is inappropriate. Children are willing to expose themselves to experiences. We aren't. Grownups always say they protect their children, but they're really protecting themselves. Besides, you can't protect children. They know everything.
    • As quoted in "The Paternal Pride of Maurice Sendak" by Bernard Holland, in The New York Times (8 November 1987)
  • One of the few graces of getting old — and God knows there are few graces — is that if you’ve worked hard and kept your nose to the grindstone, something happens: The body gets old but the creative mechanism is refreshed, smoothed and oiled and honed. That is the grace. That is the splendid grace. And I think that is what’s happening to me.
    • As quoted in "Interview: Why Is Maurice Sendak So Incredibly Angry?" by Leonard S. Marcus in Parenting (October 1993); also in Ways of Telling : Conversations on the Art of the Picture Book (2002) by Leonard S. Marcus, p. 181
  • An illustrator in my own mind — and this is not a truth of any kind — is someone who so falls in love with writing that he wishes he had written it, and the closest he can get to is illustrating it. And the next thing you learn, you have to find something unique in this book, which perhaps even the author was not entirely aware of. And that’s what you hold on to, and that’s what you add to the pictures: a whole Other Story that you believe in, that you think is there.
  • When you hide another story in a story, that’s the story I am telling the children.
    • Quoted in an interview, "Sendak on Sendak," Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia (2007/2008)
  • I’m gay. I just didn’t think it was anybody’s business … All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew.
    • As quoted in "Concerns Beyond Just Where the Wild Things Are" by Patricia Cohen in The New York Times (9 September 2008)
  • Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. 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 Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.
    • Interview with Terry Gross, host of National Public Radio's "Fresh Air"

NOW interview (2004)[edit]

It turns out sometimes the so-called "right way" is utterly the wrong way. What a monstrous confusion.
All children were in the Holocaust. Everybody was in the Holocaust.
Hitler made a film about "Hitler gives a camp to the Jews". And they look all shiny. And they're drawing. And they're playing volleyball. And people are dancing. And people are having a wonderful time. And everybody fell for it.
Interview, "NOW with Bill Moyers", PBS (12 March 2004) - transcript text
Herman Melville is a god. … I cherish what he did. He was a genius. Wrote Moby-Dick. Wrote Pierre. Wrote The Confidence-Man, wrote Billy Budd.
What is the point of it all? Not leaving legacies. But being ripe. Being ripe.
  • We're animals. We're violent. We're criminal. We're not so far away from the gorillas and the apes, those beautiful creatures. … And then, we're supposed to be civilized. We're supposed to go to work every day. We're supposed to be nice to our friends and send Christmas cards to our parents.
    We're supposed to do all these things which trouble us deeply because it's so against what we naturally would want to do. And if I've done anything, I've had kids express themselves as they are, impolitely, lovingly — they don't mean any harm. They just don't know what the right way is.
    And as it turns out sometimes the so-called "right way" is utterly the wrong way.
    What a monstrous confusion.
  • I'm not Hans Christian Andersen. Nobody's gonna make a statue in the park with a lot of scrambling kids climbing up me. I won't have it, okay?
  • I wasn't gonna paint. And I wasn't gonna do ostentatious drawings. I wasn't gonna have gallery pictures. I was gonna hide somewhere where nobody would find me and express myself entirely. I'm like a guerrilla warfare in my best books.
  • I was talking about kids I knew and me. A book, an American book, where the child actually daunts his mother and threatens her.
    No way. No way. And then on top of that, she puts him in a room and denies him food. No way. Mamas never do that kinda thing. Kids never get pissed at their parents. Unheard of. And the worst offense, he comes home. She leaves food for him. And he's not punished. Not punished.
  • I often went to bed without supper 'cause I hated my mother's cooking. So, to go to bed without supper was not a torture to me. If she was gonna hurt me, she'd make me eat.
  • Maybe there are lots of children or certainly those who are not drawn to my work because they don't want to see those shadows. But, I'm telling what it was like for me. And I know it was not unique for me.
    I've known many children, many unhappy and many disturbed children who don't know how to talk about it. And you know, the strangest thing... the fan mail I get from kids are asking me questions which they do not ask their mothers and fathers. Because if they had, why write to me, a perfect stranger?
  • I certainly don't spell it out. But they have to know it's possible things are bad. But, they are surrounded by people who love them and will protect them but cannot hide the fact that there is something bad.
  • You can't get rid of evil. We can't, and I feel that so intensely. All the idiots that keep coming into the world and wrecking people's lives.
    And it is such an abundance of idiocy that you lose courage, okay? That you lose hope — I don't want to lose hope. I get through every day — I'm pretty good — I work. I sleep. I sing. I walk. But, I'm losing hope.
  • The blackbirds are in this book, they're both pro the kids and against the kids. Just like fate. Sometimes it goes your way. Sometimes... and also a blackbird is from my passion for Schubert songs and his blackbirds and his birds of doom or birds of good. … some people were baffled that in the last big picture of that book, there's a crucifix on the wall of the children's house. Everybody assumes the hero and heroine are Jewish and the mother is Jewish. They're not. They're not. — That was my point. Those kids were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And all children were in the Holocaust. Everybody was in the Holocaust. So, I made sure my hero and heroine were not Jewish children. That was too easy. That was too easy.
  • Hitler made a film about "Hitler gives a camp to the Jews". And they look all shiny. And they're drawing. And they're playing volleyball. And people are dancing. And people are having a wonderful time. And everybody fell for it.
  • 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 — I don't need to. I know that if there's a purpose for life, it was for me to hear Mozart. Or if I walk in the woods and I see an animal, the purpose of my life was to see that animal. I can recollect it, I can notice it. I'm here to take note of. And that is beyond my ego, beyond anything that belongs to me, an observer, an observer.
  • Herman Melville is a god. … I cherish what he did. He was a genius. Wrote Moby-Dick. Wrote Pierre. Wrote The Confidence-Man, wrote Billy Budd. … Oh, yes. Look at him. … Scares the bejesus out of people and makes them hate him. Because he's so [[good.] Claggart has him killed in that book. Claggart has his eye on that boy. He will not tolerate such goodness, such blondeness, such blue eye. Goodness is scary. It's like you want to knock it. You want to hit it. Are we a country of beating down things? We love seeing people go down.
  • My big concern is me and what do I do now until the time of my death. That is valid. That is useful. That is beautiful. That is creative. And also, I want to be free again. I want to be free like when I was a kid … Where we just had fun. What I mean by this is I've had my career. I've had my success. God willing, it should have happened to Herman Melville who deserved it a great deal more, you know? Imagine him being on Bill Moyers' show. Nothing good happened to Herman Melville. I want to see me to the end working, living for myself. "Ripeness is all." Now, interpreting what ripeness is our own individual problem. … So, what is the point of it all? Not leaving legacies. But being ripe. Being ripe.
    • Sendak here quotes from King Lear by William Shakespeare : Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither: Ripeness is all.
  • The ripeness was a letter that John Keats wrote to his brother who emigrated to America describing what it was like to have a peach or piece of a peach in his mouth. And it's one of the sexiest things you will ever read of how slow you should take the peach. Don't rush it. Let it go through your palette. Let it lie on your tongue. Let it melt a little bit. Let it run from the corners. It's like describing the most incredible sex orgy. And then, you bite. But, it must be so ripe. It must be so delicious. In other words, you must not waste a second of this deliciousness which for him was life and being a great poet. That you savor every, everything that happened. I want to get ripe.

Quotes about Sendak[edit]

Where the Wild Things Are is ageless and timeless. ~ Bill Moyers
Alphabetized by author
  • To young readers Sendak's "kiddie books" – in particular, 1963's hugely popular Where the Wild Things Are – were anything but idiotic, creating imaginative visions of childhood that adults might have considered dark, cruel or disturbing, but which thrilled and delighted three generations of children.
    • Esther Addley, Guardian obituary 8 May 2012 [1]
  • He is, at heart, a curmudgeon, but a delightful one, with a vast range of knowledge, a wicked sense of humor and a talent for storytelling and mimicry. … He spends his days pondering his heroes: Mozart, Keats, Blake, Melville and Dickinson. He admires and yearns for their “ability to be private, the ability to be alone, the ability to follow some spiritual course not written down by anybody.”
    Mr. Sendak is quick to insist that a vast distance stands between his own accomplishments and theirs. “I’m not one of those people,” he said. “I can’t pretend to be.”
    Still, he has the feeling that “I will do something yet that is purely for me but will create for someone in the future that passion that Blake and Keats did in me.”
    What he has failed to consider, though, is that he may already have.
    • Patricia Cohen in "Concerns Beyond Just Where the Wild Things Are" in The New York Times (9 September 2008)
  • No one does children's stories like Maurice Sendak … over a hundred books in all. He's won nearly every major prize for children's literature plus the national medal of arts. And no wonder.
    Just look at these titles: In the Night Kitchen; Higglety Pigglety Pop!; Outside Over There; Chicken Soup with Rice; and of course, the most loved and famous of all, Where the Wild Things Are. Our own tattered copy is a Moyers family keepsake. We read it to our children when it was first published forty years ago. We've read it to our grandchildren in the last decade and we fully expect that one day they will be reading it to their grandkids, too.
    But let me share a Sendak secret with you. A seven-year-old hearing this story couldn't have more fun than a 70-year-old reading it. Where the Wild Things Are is ageless and timeless.

External links[edit]

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