Sendak still at work at age 83

By Hillel Italie

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 22 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this Tuesday, Sept. 6 2011 photo, children's book author Maurice Sendak is photographed doing an interview at his home in Ridgefield, Conn. Sendak is the author of the popular children's book "Where the Wild Things Are."

Mary Altaffer, Associated Press

RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — Maurice Sendak's eyes harden and his off-center smile curls as he considers the idea of writing a memoir.

"I didn't sleep with famous people or movie stars or anything like that. It's a common story: Brooklyn boy grows up and succeeds in his profession, period," he explains in his friendly growl. "I hate memoirs. I hate them. What you have is your private life. Why make it public? And how different is it from anybody else's life? People want to read things like, 'Did you have an affair with Oprah Winfrey, really and truly?'"

The world cares about the 83-year-old Sendak, whether he likes it or not. He's a dark soul who has been canonized, a hero who never asked for the job. With a sigh, and a wink, he confides that bookstores still contact him for appearances and children still call out and ask if he's the guy who wrote "Where the Wild Things Are." He even has an "in" at the White House; President Barack Obama read "Where the Wild Things Are" for the 2009 Easter Egg Roll.

Some contents in the unwritten book of Sendak: He loves Herman Melville, Mozart and Scottish author George MacDonald. He detests e-books ("ghastly"), Twitter ("Twatter") and Winfrey (although he wouldn't necessarily say no to an interview). He doesn't bother much with living writers besides Philip Roth, whose naughty "Portnoy's Complaint" he positively adores. "It was so dirty!" Sendak exclaims with the joy of a teenager who snagged a copy of Penthouse.

Wearing jeans and a thin, buttoned shirt, he sits at the breakfast table of his 18th-century farmhouse in the Connecticut countryside, where artists and their fortunes have often settled. He looks out on a wondrous garden of elm and maple trees, and grass a damp green.

Outside, it's a Maurice Sendak kind of day, gray and rainy, but with a stimulating breeze. Indoors is an exhibition of old age (walking sticks, pills for every day of the week) and playtime. On tables, walls, chairs and sofas are carvings and cushions of the real and the created, from Disney characters to the beasts from his books to a statuette of Obama, who has landed on the plus side of Sendak's checklist. A mellow German shepherd, Herman (named for Melville, not Goering, Sendak points out), rests at the author's feet.

Like an actor who keeps prematurely announcing his retirement, Sendak is back in the business that he swears he no longer cares about. "Bumble-Ardy" is the first book in 30 years he has written and illustrated, although the story dates to the 1970s, when he and Jim Henson collaborated on an animated project for "Sesame Street." The title character is an orphaned pig whose parents have gone to the slaughterhouse and whose aunt won't let him have a birthday party — so he throws one for himself.

"He's my usual kid. He's not very nice, he's disobedient, he's unkosher," Sendak says of Bumble-Ardy. "He's just a kid, and in my books I like children to be as ferocious and inventive and troublesome as they are in real life. We're painting pretty pictures about the world and there are no pretty pictures to paint. I like interesting people and kids are really interesting people, and if you don't paint them in little blue, pink and yellow it's even more interesting."

"You can see a lot of the usual Sendak romp in 'Bumble-Ardy,' the mayhem and the threat of family dissolution and the recovery at just the last minute," says Gregory Maguire, whose fourth and final "Wicked" book, "Out of Oz," comes out in November.

"But the recovery is never total. I love how you can see Bumble-Ardy's shifting off the page. He makes a promise to be good, but he's already thinking about the party next year."

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