Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Maurice Sendak (1928 - 2012)

As a kid, I remember this library having an entire wall made up to look like Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. A flat construction paper Max stood about as tall as a real child surrounded by the stylized jungle and cute/creepy characters which populate one of the most loved children's books ever written. (As an example of how loved, I gave a copy to my young cousin and his parents went gleefully insane about it for an hour. My cousin, having not read it, was nonplused and played with the wrapping paper since the book was being dominated by the adults reliving their childhoods.) The display was expertly made to look as if the whole thing just jumped off the page and onto the wall. It's possibly the best memory I have of this library.

It's also possibly a false memory. There is a significant chance that I imagined it once and filed that image away as "fact" instead of "fiction." Or perhaps there was a small book display that my brain remembers as being on a massive scale. As I've gotten older, the memory became more elaborate and more truthful when it may have been created out of whole cloth.

Considering we are talking about Maurice Sendak, this sort of mushy memory seems only appropriate. His work often played with this line between reality and imagination. Did Max really go to a land of the Wild Things or did he just fall asleep hungry in his wolf suit? Was Mickey merely dreaming about the night kitchen or did he really experience it? It doesn't matter. To a child, imagination and reality are often one and the same. The real thing is no more important than the pretend. 

Sadly though, the world lost the real thing yesterday. Maurice Sendak passed away at the age of 83. While he may be gone, he did leave us many imaginative memories, lovely books, and a host of honest and intimate interviews. Sendak was not what you'd imagine in a children's book writer. He was bluntly opinionated, seemingly cranky, and fantastically witty. Reading interviews regarding his work, his place as a children's author, his personal life and his thoughts on mortality are equally worthy of attention as his books themselves.

This interview was done with Terry Gross (of Fresh Air) last year after he published Bumble-Ardy. When I first heard it back in December, it made me cry. Now that he has passed away, it seems even more poignant.
posted by jw