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An Inside Look At Sendak's 'Wonderful Magic'

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Besides his influence on generations of children and adults, author Maurice Sendak was also a personal mentor to a number of writers. Sendak, who died Tuesday at age 83, told NPR in 2005 that he felt it was his duty to pass on everything he'd learned.

"This big gorilla head that's stuffed full of experience — I want to give it away before I'm gone," he said. "I want to give it away to young artists who are as vehement and passionate about their lives and work as I was and am."

Among his mentees was Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked, a number of children's books and Making Mischief: A Maurice Sendak Appreciation.

Maguire tells Melissa Block, host of All Things Considered, that he visited the Where the Wild Things Are author in the hospital shortly before he died and brought a photo of Lewis Carroll. In the image, the Alice In Wonderland creator is seen sitting on the edge of a window with his feet hanging outside.

Maguire says Sendak felt a deep connection to Carroll and other authors who had come before him, including Emily Dickinson, Henry James and Homer.

"He felt that they were his friends and part of his family," Maguire says. "I brought Lewis Carroll so I could say, 'Lewis Carroll is over there — he's on the other side of the glass, Maurice. He's ready to welcome you so that you can lean down and be a family member. You're gone, [but] your books aren't gone, your influence isn't gone. Make sure to come back and haunt us."


Interview Highlights

On his sense of humor:
"I think Maurice did have a little bit of Borscht Belt in him or a little bit of the black side of what black comedy really means. He knew that life was rough — it was rough for children, and it was rough for citizens and it was rough for loners. And if you don't laugh at it, you're cooked."

On Sendak as his mentor:
"I remember having lunch with him once in South Hadley, Mass., and he said: 'Gregory, if you ever sell out, I will come back from the grave and I will sit at the edge of your bed and I will taunt you. You remember, children are the most important thing — you keep their welfare at the heart of everything that you do. Or I will come back.' So now I'm tempted to tease him — to see, will you really, Maurice? I would love to see you again, how can I get you back?"

On his relationship with children:
"He loved children because they are a pure repository of the human spirit. ... He wrote books that were published for children, but anybody who read them when they were young, found that unlike most other books, they were not put aside in the attic as one grew older. The books that I'd read of his when I was 8 and 10 and 12, maybe, seemed actually to say more to me the older that I got. They are real works of art, because the more you look at them, the less you understand how they do what they do — that wonderful magic."

On his writing:
"He was a poet of comedy and a poet of transformations — all his stories are about children transforming themselves out of the gloom of difficult circumstances into, maybe not paradise, maybe not salvation, but into a slightly better situation where they could take the next meal and maybe move onto the next hurdle."

On being obsessed with his own mortality:
"He railed against having to lose anything that was valuable and precious. But he had always faced — directly, squarely and with great courage — anything that was difficult. He taught children to face it in his books. He taught the adults who were inspired by his books to face it in their own work."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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