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Maurice Sendak, a giant of children’s literature, passes away

Maurice Sendak, the trailblazing author and illustrator whose books enchanted, inspired and terrified generations of children, died this morning in a Danbury, Connecticut, hospital following a stroke, The New York Times reports. He was 83.

Best known for his 1963 dark fantasy Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak defied convention, rejecting the innocent subject matter that marked saccharine picture books of the era and instead embracing sharp-toothed monsters, unruly protagonists and childhood fears.

“I don’t write for children,” the outspoken author said in his memorable January appearance on The Colbert Report (watch the two-part interview below). “I write, and somebody says, ‘That’s for children.’ I didn’t set out to make children happy, or make life better for them, or easier for them.”

That outlook didn’t always win Sendak any favors — although it did earn him numerous accolades, including the Caldecott Medal, the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration and National Medal of the Arts: Many librarians and parents thought Where the Wild Things Are was too frightening. And his surreal 1970 book In the Night Kitchen, whose young protagonist loses his pajamas and his depicted at times fully nude, has long been the subject of censorship fights.

Born June 10, 1928, in Brooklyn, New York, Sendak was inspired to become an illustrator at age 12 after watching Walt Disney’s Fantasia. While still in high school he worked part-time at All-American Publications, which later merged with National Periodical Publications and Detective Comics to form DC Comics, filling in backgrounds for reprints of the Mutt and Jeff comic strips. His first professional illustrations were for a physics textbook published in 1947; his first book, Kenny’s Window, was published less than a decade later.

Sendak released Bumble-Ardy, about an orphaned pig who throws a birthday party for himself, in September, the first book in three decades he both wrote and illustrated. My Brother’s Book, a poem inspired by his love for his late brother Jack, is set to be published in February.

Sendak was preceded in death by his partner of 50 years Eugene Glynn, who passed away in May 2007.

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Comments

4 Comments

He is now off to join the Wild Things! That book was a favorite of my children, who only found it fun but never frightening.

Francis Dawson

May 8, 2012 at 8:50 am

Bona-fide genius. RIP. Really looking forward to the long-form interview in TCJ #302.

Simon DelMonte

May 8, 2012 at 9:32 am

Got to meet him once, at a program at The Jewish Museum in NYC connected to a marvelous show of his show. Shook his hand and thanked him for everything. Doesn’t feel like it was nearly enough.

RIP. Incidentally, I’ve never laughed harder or more thoroughly enjoyed a TV interview than the Colbert/Sendak two-parter. Thank you for posting it.

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