Maurice Sendak was our favorite gay curmudgeon. He never withered under criticism, and he was always ready to share his biting opinions. Unfortunately we won't be able to enjoy them any longer since the news that he succumbed to complications from a recent stroke and died at the age of 83 in Danbury, Conn.
He battled with melancholia and famously said he didn't like people and prefered the company of his dogs. “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy,” he told the New York Times in a 2008 interview. “They never, never, never knew.”
"Given Sendak's stature as the most decorated children's book artist in history, it is sometimes easy to overlook the obvious: However many medals of honor he piles up, however many museum curators and opera and ballet companies come to curry favor, Sendak has never betrayed his earliest allegiance: the one with children.
His is not a sentimental affection. No one is less sentimental about children than Sendak. His sympathy is sometimes theoretical and only occasionally carries over into practice. (I once offered to drop by for a quick hello as I was motoring past his town, and I was advised to leave my own kids in the lobby of my hotel'nearly in so many words.)"
As Margalit Fox writes in the New York Times: "A largely self-taught illustrator, Mr. Sendak was at his finest a shtetl Blake, portraying a luminous world, at once lovely and dreadful, suspended between wakefulness and dreaming. In so doing, he was able to convey both the propulsive abandon and the pervasive melancholy of children’s interior lives."
For anyone curious about the gifted artist, watch the documentary Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak. (In an odd coincidence, it is distributed on DVD by Oscilloscope, the film distribution company founded by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, who passed away of cancer last week at the age of 47.) In it, Sendak talks openly about his sexuality and the criticism he faced over the years for his blunt words and drawings that sometimes had children scampering naked and free on the page.
As the playwright Tony Kushner, one of his collaborators, said in the 2008 Times story, "He’s one of the most important, if not the most important, writers and artists ever to work in children’s literature. In fact, he’s a significant writer and artist in literature. Period.”