I love Where the Wild Things Are. I am a fan of anything Maurice Sendak touches. Those who know me well, know I collect his books and edition prints … the rarer the better, when signed, the best. When I was an undergrad Sendak came to one of my classes to speak. Just a small little classroom of illustration and design students. Strangely, his visit was during summer session, when the school tended to be a ghost town. The event could have been widely publicized and filled two auditoriums, perhaps it was upon Sendak’s request that it was a small classroom full of just us kids.
By that time I had begun a modest collection of books and other things Sendak, my favorite book being Caldecott
& Co.: Notes on Books and Pictures. This non-fiction anthology was a gift from my aunt to my mother, and which somehow I inherited when I went to college. The previous winter break I went to see the Wild Things Came to New York Installation at the Sony Store in Manhattan with my mother (who, as a librarian, was the one who turned me on to his books as a child). She and I collected up the free posters, shopping bags and note cards they were giving away. We took pictures in front of the Sendak-designed store windows, all wrapped up in our winter wear.
Back to Sendak’s visit to the classroom. Talk about an unassuming and self-effacing guy! He seemed not to believe we wanted to listen to him speak. Us students were in awe and one mentioned to him that it was us kids who had been ‘brought up on his books’. Sendak corrected the room full of us 80s kids, telling us it was really our parents
(or some of our parents), who had been ‘brought up on his books’, we were too young to be the first generation.
Sendak talked about his idiosyncratic process, how he liked to watch the soap All My Children every day, while he ate lunch, and then how he worked in his studio into the night. He told us how he enjoyed walking his dogs ‘out in the woods’ where he lived in Connecticut. He told us why his story characters were often fed at the end of his books for comfort or reward, a reaction to his growing up in a house full of immigrant aunts and uncles, who he always believed were stealing food from his mouth.
At the end of Sendak’s lecture, my friend Christina and I hung back to speak with him. I had with me the Caldecottbook and my childhood LP of Carole King’s Chicken Soup with Rice. He kindly signed both for me. To this day they remain two of my prize possessions. Sendak asked Christina and I what we were studying, and as he signed my things I told him, ‘Mr. Sendak, Christina and I are both from the woods of Connecticut that you mention walking your dogs in’, his eyes shot out of his head and he showed the most emotion of the day. He replied, ‘What in the world are the two of you doing down here?’, he seemed to have the same New York area mentality that many people did about actually leaving New York to study art. It is something I will never forget.
That is my Maurice Sendak story, which I will tell my children and my children’s children. I collect in my mind similar encounters with other creative heroes of mine such as Chip Kidd, Maira Kalman, Kit Hinrichs, Ellen Lupton, Luba Lukova and Stefan Sagmeister.
Yet, back to Sendak. Is it alright that I’m apprehensive about this Fall’s release of the Spike Jonze film based onWhere the Wild Things Are? Didn’t I start this entry writing ‘I am a fan of anything Maurice Sendak touches’?
Will I like the rendition? What if Jonze didn’t do it right? Jonze is of my generation and I’ve read interviews about why Sendak finally allowed him, of all those who had approached him over the years … so I will have faith.
I will let you know what I think, once I muster up the courage to make it to a viewing!