Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Maurice Sendak on THE BARN

Maurice Sendak, who died today, met and corresponded with my father some 43 or 44 years ago. Only four of the letters and just one of the envelopes from Sendak have survived, and I’ve often wondered if Sendak saved anything Dad sent to him. I’m especially curious about his letters, but maybe his presentation copy of The Barn still sits somewhere on a shelf or in a box at the Sendak house.

It was the first book that Dad both wrote and illustrated and it was came out during their brief acquaintance. Dad’s author’s copies were en route from the publisher at the end of June 1968 and he must have mailed one to his fellow author-illustrator not long after. It took a while for Sendak to acknowledge it, though. He wrote in October or November:
You have had dreadful thoughts of me - no doubt! The Barn came weeks ago - & I haven’t been able to write. Please forgive me. The book is terrific & how marvelous that it is all you! That is as it should be. I think it has some of your finest drawings. Thank you so much.
He also - very candidly - explained the delay:
My summer was horrible. My mother, who was ill for two years, died at the end of August. It was ghastly. And my father came all to pieces. The last two months have been taken up with trying to keep him alive. He is in the hospital now - & has an operation coming next week. Of course I haven’t worked. Although - over the last two weeks I found myself wanting to draw again! Hopeful. I’m dreadfully sorry I couldn’t go up to the Bronx Zoo & see your pictures. I would have loved that. But, quite literally, my life hasn’t been my own - & there was no possibility. I hope I can see them - I really hope they all sold! but I’d like very much to see what you’re doing. When all is quiet & somewhat sane again - let’s make plans to meet.
I’m not sure if they ever met again, though they did make a plan the following March. Sendak’s subsequent letters, however, show that a sort of misunderstanding arose over their respective depictions of skunks (in The Barn and The Dangerous Year, illustrated by my father, and in A Kiss For Little Bear, illustrated by Sendak. More on that later). But despite their differences and strong opinions I think they had a real respect for each other’s work and, for better or worse, they weren’t afraid to speak their minds. I like how Sendak closes the letter I’ve quoted here:
I feel bad about not having written to you - I really do. But you will understand. Write when you can.