Monday, June 10, 2013

Happy Birthday, Maurice!

Today would have been legendary illustrator, designer, author, and my friend Maurice Sendak's 85th birthday. He is remembered most for his classic children's book WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (The New York Times obituary called Maurice "the most important children's book artist of the 20th century"...think about that...of the century) but also for a catalog of beautiful drawings, illustrations, stories, set designs, and for making extremely relevant the state of childhood. He spoke to the mystery of that state, to the fears, darkness, and insecurities that are universal to all children. In this way, I believe he made an important contribution to the psychological understanding of children in a time when it was still believed that young people should be "seen and not heard." He also, without meaning to, contributed to the betterment of our culture with his sensibility, his concerns, and his empathy... all he was doing was writing and drawing what he pleased and what he felt. A friend pointed out that it is the "accidental" contributions that matter most: "If you do what you love, and you are sincere and genuine, and that ends up impacting people, affecting their lives, making the world just a tiny bit better, that is the best contribution."

I met Maurice in 1986. I had sent him some poems I had written and we struck up a friendship. Over the years, we had dinners, exchanged letters, and talked on the phone. He called me whenever he was stuck while he was working on his adaptation of a Brother's Grimm story which he named DEAR MILI. He was a fascinating man: curmudgeonly and cranky (and not a "cranky old man" because I met him when he was in his 50s, and he was cranky then), but his type of cranky was that he simply did not suffer fools or the illusions and niceties of our culture. He was a brilliant man, smart, wickedly funny, talented, authentic, able to truly understand himself, and able to feel deeply.

Thanks for having the courage to be who you were Maurice. I would normally send you a card for your birthday, but I am sending it to you through the air, through the stars...

Happy birthday, Maurice.

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