Beloved children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died today at the age of 83, according to the New York Times. The cause of death was complications after a recent stroke. A true creative force with singular vision, he rose to international prominence in 1963 with his classic picture book Where the Wild Things Are, which tells the story of a mischievous young boy who escapes to an imagined world full of wild forests and fanged beasts. Following his first publication in 1947, Sendak wrote and illustrated dozens of best-selling and critically acclaimed titles in addition to designing sets for operas and producing TV series based on his books.
Many of Sendak’s works were notable – and controversial – for their textured, surprisingly grim aesthetics and a unique perspective on childhood. The very young protagonists in his stories are often angry, rebellious, and downright ferocious. His characters unsettled some parents but made an indelible impression on generations of readers, including Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret), Gregory Maguire (Wicked), and filmmaker Spike Jonze, who directed the 2009 movie adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.
Not only have his works been canonized, but Sendak himself also became an iconic and fascinating public figure, known for his gruff demeanor, frank opinions, and dark humor. Last January, he made an unforgettable appearance on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, during which he left host Stephen Colbert and the audience in fits of laughter. “I don’t write for children,” he told Colbert. “I like them as few and far between as I do adults.”
“Maurice Sendak was strikingly honest,” wrote Colbert this morning, upon learning of the author’s passing. “His art gave us a fantastical but unromanticized reminder of what childhood truly felt like. We are all honored to have been briefly invited into his world.”
Sendak lived with his partner, psychiatrist Eugene Glynn, for 50 years before Glynn died of lung cancer in 2007. In later years, Sendak was still hard at work on new projects. In September 2011, he published Bumble-Ardy, the first picture he both wrote and illustrated in 30 years. He was also reportedly working on a project about noses.
Sendak on The Colbert Report, January 2012
Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak, directed by Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs