After his death, in May, much was written about Sendak’s legendary crossness, but it was really just impatience with artifice. “I refuse to lie to children,” he said. “I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence.” There was no roughness in his delivery.
THE BELIEVER: Do you miss the city, living out here (in Connecticut)?
MAURICE SENDAK: I really don’t like the city anymore. You get pushed and harassed and people grope you. It’s too tumultuous. It’s too crazy. I’m afraid of falling over in New York. People are all insane and talking on machines and twittering and twottering. All that. I’m here looking for peace and quiet. A yummy death.
BLVR: A yummy death?
MS: I’m just reading a book about Samuel Palmer and the ancients in England in the 1820s. You were so lucky to have William Blake. He’s lying in bed, he’s dying, and all the young men come—the famous engravers and painters—and he’s lying and dying, and suddenly he jumps up and begins to sing! “Angels, angels!” I don’t know what the song was. And he died a happy death. It can be done. [Lifts his eyebrows to two peaks] If you’re William Blake and totally crazy.
BLVR: You do some teaching out here?
MS: I have a fellowship that started last year, two men and two women living in a house, and I go over when they want me to critique, or whatever the hell. I just talk dirty. They’re nice people. Young. It’s probably not very original, but old artists like to have young artists around… to destroy. I’m joking. I really want to help them. But publishing is such an outrageously stupid profession. Or has become so.
BLVR: More so than it was?
MS: Well, nobody knows what they’re doing. I wonder if that’s always been true. I think being old is very fortunate right now. I want to get out of this as soon as possible. It’s terrible. And the great days in the 1950s and after the war, when publishing children’s books was youthful and fun… it really was. It’s not just looking back and pretending that it was good. It was good. And now it’s just stupid.
MS: Because of Rupert Murdoch. His name should be what everything is called now.
BLVR: But he publishes you!
MS: Yes! HarperCollins. He owns Harpers. I guess the rest of the world, too. He represents how bad things have become..
BLVR: Have you thought of leaving HarperCollins?
MS: Oh, sure. But I don’t know a better house. They’re all in trouble. They’re all terrible.
BLVR: What do you think of e-books?
MS: I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book. A book is a book is a book. I know that’s terribly old-fashioned. I’m old, and when I’m gone they’ll probably try to make my books on all these things, but I’m going to fight it like hell. [Pauses] I can’t believe I’ve turned into a typical old man. I can’t believe it. I was young just minutes ago.
BLVR: Is the problem with e-books partly a problem of color?
MS: Yes. Picture books depend on color, largely. And they haven’t perfected the color in those machines. But it’s not that. It’s giving up a form that is so beautiful. A book is really like a lover. It arranges itself in your life in a way that is beautiful. Even as a kid, my sister, who was the eldest, brought books home for me, and I think I spent more time sniffing and touching them than reading. I just remember the joy of the book; the beauty of the binding. The smelling of the interior. Happy.
BLVR: Are you happy now?
MS: [Sighs] My friends are all dying. They have to die. I know that. I have to die. But two friends died last week. I was completely broken by it. One was a publisher in Zurich. I loved him and his wife. It’s the loneliness that’s very bad. They’re doing what is natural. If I was doing what was natural I would be gone, like they are. I just miss them, terribly.
BLVR: You’ve never liked being called a children’s illustrator.
MS: I never started out as a children’s book artist. What is a children’s-book artist? A moron! Some ugly fat pip-squick of a person who can’t be bothered to grow up. That’s the way we’re treated in the adult world of publishing. I remember a publishing party a thousand years ago and we were invited, people from the children’s-book department, and someone said, “Oh, you stay up so late!” Stupid man. But that’s the attitude in this country. I’m an illustrator. I have to accept my role. I will never kill myself like Vincent van Gogh. Nor will I paint beautiful water lilies like Monet. I can’t do that. I’m in the idiot role of being a kiddie-book person. It sounds like I’m complaining, but it has no effect on me. I have a good life. I’m strangely content now. Does that come through? Something changed; maybe it was his death. I can’t complain about anything. I’m a lucky buck.
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