Maurice Sendak On Being a Kid

I still think the same way I thought as a child. I still worry. I’m still frightened. Everything is the same. Nothing changes.

Andrew Romano

Interview by

September 2009, Sendak's home in Connecticut
Interviewed with Ramin Seetodeh
Digital Recorder

Read the profile @ Newsweek.com




[Music: Oskar Schuster “Sneeuwland”]

Maurice Sendak: I love watching animal movies on television. And they always say don’t run away and don’t turn your back. And don’t lie down flat. And I love—it’s from my childhood—how do you prevent dying? How do you prevent being eaten or mauled by a monster? I still worry about it. (Laughter)

[Music: Johnny_Ripper “Opening Credits”]

Maurice Sendak: I think there is something barbaric in children, and it’s missing in lots of books for them because we don’t like to think of it. We want them to be happy. Childhood is a very tough time. It was for me, and it was for my brother and my sister. They were both considerably older than I was and they protected me from my parents. They were the good parents. And my real parents were not so good, okay? They didn’t mean any harm. They were confused; they didn’t speak English. Living in a foreign country, and take it out on your kids. That’s all.

[Music: “Opening Credits” continues]

Maurice Sendak: But there are a lot of crazy people who have children, and I’ve always been interested in how children maneuver and decide how to live. It’s hard. I’ve always had a deep respect for children and how they solve complex problems by themselves.

Ramin Seetodeh: And how do they?

Maurice Sendak: I think through shrewdness, fantasy and just plain strength; they want to survive. They want to survive. The kids in Hansel and Gretel: Gretel, she saves her brother’s life. And a little girl saving a little boy’s life—when did children have to confront such terrible ordeals? Well they do. They do.

[Music: “Opening Credits” continues]

Andrew Romano: Just a broad question: what should children’s stories contain?

Maurice Sendak: Well, how would I know? All I do know is that my parents were immigrants and they didn’t know that they should clean the stories up for us. So we heard horrible, horrible stories. And we loved them. We absolutely loved them. But the three of us—my sister, my brother and myself—grew up being very depressed people.

[Music: Ergo Phizmiz & Margita Zalite “Rolands Vegners”]

Maurice Sendak: So the great thing was my brother, who wrote stories and I’d illustrate his stories. There was one story we called “We Are Inseparable.” And they’re going to get married. The brother and sister are going to get married and nobody knows that there’s anything wrong with that. Nobody. Nobody. Hey, you love somebody. So it’s your sister. Big deal. Okay?

[Music: “Rolands Vegners” continues]

Maurice Sendak: Now, obviously Freud stuck into my brother’s head at the last minute to prevent this wedding from taking place. The boy’s in an accident—and I can’t remember what—and he’s bandaged and looks like a mummy. And she comes tearing to the hospital. “Let me in! Let me in!” And the parents are holding her back, holding her back and then she breaks down the door and she jumps on top of him and they both scream in unison, “We are inseparable!” And they leap out the window of the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital—like the 40th floor—and that’s how it ends. It was a really happy ending. (Laughter)

[Music: “Sneeuwland”continues]

Maurice Sendak: Let’s tell the truth. Let’s talk about the kid who doesn’t make it sensationally well. Who struggles and fights, but really doesn’t know what he’s fighting against or for. And I don’t think that changes. We’re all adults in this room sitting talking about that. Has that ended? No. It doesn’t end. I still think the same way I thought as a child. I still worry. I’m still frightened. Everything is the same. Nothing changes.

[Music: “Sneeuwland” continues]

Music: Oskar Schuster “Sneeuwland” | Johnny Ripper “Opening Credits” | Ergo Phizmiz & Margita Zalite “Rolands Vegners”
Photo: James Nicoloro Productions