Maurice Sendak, who died at 83 today, has been called the Picasso of children's literature, and godfather to generations of readers. He 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.
In our candid 2004 conversation, Sendak revealed some of the early childhood memories and surprisingly dark influences behind his work. Shaped by immigrant parents and the tragedy of the Holocaust, Sendak provided frank insight into his complicated psyche, and a rare window into the soul of an acclaimed artist. He also discussed how he shaped the character of Max, the mischievous lead in his blockbuster book, and what he might have been like as an adult:
"People often say, 'What happens to Max?' It's such a coy question that I always say, 'Well, he's in therapy forever. He has to wear a straitjacket when he's with his therapist.'"
Enjoy this look back at the man behind some of the most magical literature ever conceived.