Some quotable wisdom from Maurice Sendak on his birthday

Happy birthday, Maurice Sendak! If he were alive today, the exuberantly grizzly and lovably grouchy author and illustrator would have been 87. In addition to being famous for creating the favorite bedtime book for many children and 20-something hipster gents everywhere (Where the Wild Things Are, you might have heard of it!), Sendak had a long and adventurous life, full of ups and downs. He was enthralled by the magic of Fantasia when it premiered, lost family in the Holocaust, came out as gay as an adult, married the love of his life and lost him to cancer. Sendak produced more than 50 books and illustrated over 80. He was well-known for his scratchily perfect turns-of-phrase in children’s books, little rough gems that stick in our heads and our hearts.

In 2011, Sendak gave a notable interview to Terry Gross on Fresh Air. He told Gross that two lines from his book Bumble-ardy “sum up his life and his work.”

In the book, a little pig throws himself a party for his 9th birthday, against the rules of his absent aunt. When she comes back, she tells him, “Okay smarty, you’ve had your party but never again.” Bumble-ardy says, “I promise, I swear, I won’t ever turn 10.”

Amazing, right? So perfectly dark and whimsical at the same time. Sendak totally expresses the forever sense that childhood has when you’re young, along with the moments of quiet, desperate grace that come with getting older.

He also told Gross about writing the book; how his partner was dying during the process, and creating the book became a mixture of learning to let go with learning to keep living. About his then-current work, he said, “I feel like I’m working for myself at this point. If it’s publishable, fine. If not, it makes not too much difference. Because I claim that this time is for me and me alone.” What a freeing way to look at the world!

Happy Birthday, Maurice Sendak! We’re obsessed with how wise and hilarious and perfect his quotes are. Here are some more words of wisdom from his grumbly self, both as himself and in his books.

1. On losing people

“I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more. … What I dread is the isolation. … There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”

2. On loving something

“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it…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.”

3. On life goals

“There must be more to life than having everything!”
– from Higglety Pigglety Pop!: Or There Must Be More to Life

4. On fantasy

“And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming wild things.”

5. On art

“Artistic style is only a means to an end, and the more styles you have, the better. To get trapped in a style is to lose all flexibility. If you have only one style, then you’re going to do the same book over and over, which is pretty dull. Lots of styles permit you to walk in and out of books. So, develop a fine style, a fat style, and fairly slim style, and a really rough style.

As an aspiring artist, you should strive for originality of vision. Have something to say and a fresh way of saying it. No story is worth the writing, no picture worth the making, if it’s not the work of the imagination.”

Thank you for you, Maurice Sendak. In your own words, from Where the Wild Things Are: “Oh, please don’t go—we’ll eat you up—we love you so!”

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