Maurice Bernard Sendak ( June 10, 1928 – May 8, 2012) was an American illustrator and writer of children’s books. He became widely known for his book Where the Wild Things Are, first published in 1963. Born to Jewish-Polish parents, his childhood was affected by the death of many of his family members during the Holocaust. Besides Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak also wrote works such as In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, and illustrated many works by other authors including the Little Bear books by Else Holmelund Minarik.
Sendak gained international acclaim after writing and illustrating Where the Wild Things Are, edited by Ursula Nordstrom at Harper & Row. It features Max, a boy who “rages against his mother for being sent to bed without any supper”. The book’s depictions of fanged monsters concerned some parents when it was first published, as his characters were somewhat grotesque in appearance. Before Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak was best known for illustrating Else Holmelund Minarik’s Little Bear series of books.
Sendak mentioned in a September 2008 article in The New York Times that he was gay and had lived with his partner, psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn, for 50 years before Glynn’s death in May 2007. Revealing that he never told his parents, he said, “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew.” Sendak’s relationship with Glynn had been mentioned by other writers before (e.g., Tony Kushner in 2003) and Glynn’s 2007 death notice had identified Sendak as his “partner of fifty years”.After his partner’s death, Sendak donated $1 million to the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in memory of Glynn who had treated young people there. The gift will name a clinic for Glynn.
Sendak was an atheist. In a 2011 interview, he stated that he did not believe in God and explained that he felt that religion, and belief in God, “must have made life much easier [for some religious friends of his]. It’s harder for us non-believers.”
Sendak died on May 8, 2012, at age 83, in Danbury, Connecticut, at Danbury Hospital, from complications of a stroke, less than a month before his 84th birthday. His remains were cremated.
The New York Times obituary called Sendak “the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century.” Author Neil Gaiman remarked, “He was unique, grumpy, brilliant, wise, magical and made the world better by creating art in it.” Author R. L. Stine called Sendak’s death “a sad day in children’s books and for the world.”
Comedian Stephen Colbert, who interviewed Sendak in one of his last public appearances on his TV program The Colbert Report, said of the author: “We are all honored to have been briefly invited into his world.” Sendak’s appearance on a January 2012 episode of The Colbert Report saw him teach Colbert how to illustrate and provide a book blurb for Colbert’s own children’s book, I Am a Pole (And So Can You!), and the day that Sendak died was also the book’s official release date.
The 2012 season of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker, for which Sendak designed the set, was dedicated to his memory.
On May 12, 2012, Nick Jr. hosted a 2-hour Little Bear marathon in his memory. The writer of the series Else Holmelund Minarik would die herself only two months later on July 12, 2012, at the age of 91.
His final book, Bumble-Ardy, was published eight months before his death. A posthumous picture book, titled My Brother’s Book, was published in February 2013.
The film Her was dedicated in memory of him and Where the Wild Things Are co-star James Gandolfini. The film was directed by Spike Jonze, who also directed the motion picture adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.