Terry Gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air” interviewed Maurice Sendak four times over several decades, the first time in the mid-1980s and most recently several months ago. Her show yesterday was a compilation of all those interviews, a full hour dedicated to Sendak.
Radio is not so fashionable these days, and most of us don’t “have time” to listen to interviews, but I have to say this is the finest work Terry Gross has ever done. You get a real sense of Sendak’s tortured and in the end joyful and completely realized life as an artist and as a human being.
In one of the interviews, Sendak explains to Gross why he stopped doing book signings for children, and why he stopped visiting kids in their classrooms: he realized that he had become one of those frightening and problematic adults that many of his monsters were meant to depict!
One little boy who had been standing in line with his copy of “Where The Wild Things Are” — upon being pushed forward by his father for Sendak’s signature — defiantly and bravely screamed “Don’t crap-up my book!!!”
Sendak loved this kid, and took the father aside to plead mercy for him.
In the course of these four interviews over the years, he developed a trust in Terry Gross and clearly a fondness for her. In the last interview several months ago, Sendak — who had always been obsessed with death (in a good Buddhist way, it seems to me, although he was actually a secular jew and a dedicated atheist) — in the last interview he told Terry “I’ll cry my way to the grave,” and a little later, “I’m not afraid of death” and a little after that “I’ll probably die before you, which is good because I won’t have to cry over you.”
Sendak, a very very sweet man. RIP.
Listen to the compilation of the Terry Gross interviews with Maurice Sendak here if you … “have time:”