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Maurice Sendak

(1928 - 2012)

Maurice Sendak was a Jewish American illustrator and author of children's literature best known for his 1963 book, Where the Wild Things Are.

Sendak (born June 10, 1928; died May 8, 2012) was born in Brooklyn, New York to parents who had immigrated to the United States from Poland. At the age of 12, Sendak was so taken by Walt Disney’s film Fantasia that he decided to teach himself to become an illustrator. Seventeen years late, in 1947, his first illustrations were published in a textbook entitled Atomics for the Millions.

In 1948, he began working for F.A.O. Schwartz as a window dresser and continued there for four years while taking night classes at the New York Art Students League. In 1952, he had his first major success when he illustrated Ruth Krauss’ book, A Hole to Dig. His published works also include: Kenny’s Window (1956), Very Far Away (1957), and Higglety, Pigglety, Pop (1967).

Sendak is best known for his book Where the Wild Things Are, first published in 1963. He found international acclaim through the book’s portrayal of the dark and nightmarish aspects of children’s fantasy. Sendak's says that his own "terrible" childhood, during which he was exposed to death and mortality very early on due to the death of many members of his extended family during the Holocaust, was the motivation behind his scary monsters and controversial themes. His 1970 book, In the Night Kitchen, has regularly been subjected to censorship for presenting pictures of a young boy running naked through the story.

In 1964, Sendak was awarded the American Library Association’s Caldecott Medal for Where the Wild Things Are. In 1970 he won the Hans Christian Anderson Award for children’s book illustration, and in 2003 he shared the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award with Christine Nostlinger, the first time it was awarded.

Sendak produced an animated TV production based on his work entitled Really Rosie, featuring Carole King, which was broadcast in 1975. While continuing to write and illustrate, Sendak began producing and designing performances. Incorporating much of the same imaginative design that had made his books so popular, Sendak put on a number of operas, including Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” and Prokofiev’s “Love for Three Oranges”. In 1979, he adapted Where the Wild Things Are into a stage production, and in 1983 he designed an award-winning stage production of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker for the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

In 2009, Spike Jonze directed the live-action film adaptation of Sendak’s 1963 classic Where the Wild Things Are.

Sendak was gay and never married, but lived with his partner, psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn, for 50 years until Dr. Glynn’s death in May 2007.

On May 8, 2012, four days after he reportedly suffered a stroke, Sendak died. He was 83 years old.

Sources: “Maurice Sendak (1928 - ).” American Jewish Historical Society, American Jewish Desk Reference, (NY: Random House, 1999). pg. 513-4.
"Why Maurice Sendak Puts Kid Characters in Danger," NPR, (September 26, 2006).
"Author, Illustrator Maurice Sendak Dies," JTA, (May 8, 2012).
Maurice Sendak: Wikipedia
Maurice Sendak: American Masters on PBS