Friends and Fellow Writers Pay Tribute to 'Where the Wild Things Are' Author Maurice Sendak

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On the day before his death, they gathered by his bedside to eat jelly beans, read his new book, and toast his life.

Maurice Sendak, the famed author (Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen) who passed away on May 8 at age 83, continued to be remembered by his close friends and colleagues in the world of children’s literature.

Among those paying tribute to the late writer was author Gregory Maguire (Wicked), who knew Sendak for thirty-five years and who visited him the day before he passed away.

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On that day, Maguire gathered with playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America) and author Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret) around the bed of the unconscious Sendak to toast his life.

The men, all longstanding friends of Sendak, passed around jelly beans and page proofs for his forthcoming book My Brother’s Book, about his deceased brother Jack with whom he collaborated on several projects. Maguire said they recalled their friend’s “passion, his argumentativeness, his great salaciousness” and his ability to be “honest and crude—oh he could be crude—if the situation demanded it,” as they shared funny stories about him.

Maguire recalled that once during a public forum where he was interviewing Sendak he asked him what Max, the central character from Where the Wild Things Are, would be like as an adult. Sendak described Max as “seventy-four, living with his mother, who has to keep remaking that wolf suit, doesn’t go out much out except to see his therapist.” As the audience laughed at Sendak’s joke, Maguire pulled out a piece of Bristol drawing board and a pen. “Can you draw it for us?”  Under his breath, Sendak jokingly whispered, “Fuckhead.” But he complied and Maguire has the drawing hanging in his office. (See a copy of it below).


Maguire went on to praise Sendak as being “galaxies” ahead of other children’s writers. He said he would miss him as friend and “as a muse even more. To know that there are going to be no more new editions of his work on my bookshelf. There’s more sorrow in that.”

Tony Diterlizzi, the author of the Spiderwick Chronicles and the Spider and the Fly, also praised Sendak.  They became friendly when he wrote a news article about Sendak’s aborted effort to do an illustrated edition of the Hobbit in the sixties. Diterlizzi said it was no surprise that Sendak was drawn to The Hobbit since it shared his sensibility of offering “a glimmer of hope but [requiring the reader] to go through a dark and stormy world to get there.”

He said Sendak was part of the “Holy Trinity of great American children’s authors” along with Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein.  All three “took incredible risks in beautifully-crafted stories that would ruffle the feathers of parents but the kids loved them.” His popularity was a testament to “how attune” he was “to us a children, to the psyche of children.”

Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, of the Gotham Group, who represented Sendak and his partner in John Carls in their Wild Things Production, praised her client, calling him “an incredible artist with a unique storytelling ability that didn’t fit squarely into any one box, adding “we are really saddened by this tremendous loss.”


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