"I don’t write for children," Maurice Sendak said when being interviewed by Stephen Colbert. "I write. And somebody says, ‘that’s for children.’” But children – and adults – everywhere will be sad today at the news that the beloved author behind Where The Wild Things Are and In The Night Kitchen has died at the age of 83.
Kicking off his career in the late 1940s, Sendak worked more as an illustrator than a writer, with more than 100 picture assignments to his name compared to the 20 or so that he actually authored himself. But his impact on the world of literature was immense.
He became best known for Where The Wild Things Are, which arrived in 1963 and became an instant, if controversial hit. He was faced with even more controversy with In 1970s The Night Kitchen, which landed on the list of most challenged and banned books thanks to its depiction of a naked boy running through a fantasy world. He raged against censorship and the pigeonholing of children's literature and never resorted to patronising his most passionate audience.
In addition to his writing, he produced animated series based on his work and was part of the team developing Sesame Street. In 2009, Spike Jonze achieved a long-held ambition of bringing Where The Wild Things Are to the big screen.
But it might be his wit, his wisdom and the way he interacted and inspired his fans that Sendak will be most remembered for. Including one particular exchange: “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.”
Maurice Sendak, you will be missed.