Maurice Sendak on publishing: "Outrageously stupid"

The Believer has published a candid interview with the late writer and illustrator

Published November 5, 2012 5:54PM (EST)

Maurice Sendak was known not just as a literary icon, but as a larger-than-life curmudgeon who refused "to cater to the bullshit of innocence." The Believer has published a contemplative but hilarious interview with the "Where the Wild Things Are" writer and illustrator, who died last May, in which he opens up about childhood, literature, old age and more.

Sendak on why publishing has become "an outrageously stupid profession":

MS: Well, nobody knows what they’re doing. I wonder if that’s always been true. I think being old is very fortunate right now. I want to get out of this as soon as possible. It’s terrible. And the great days in the 1950s and after the war, when publishing children’s books was youthful and fun… it really was. It’s not just looking back and pretending that it was good. It was good. And now it’s just stupid.

BLVR: Why?

MS: Because of Rupert Murdoch. His name should be what everything is called now.

BLVR: But he publishes you!

MS: Yes! HarperCollins. He owns Harpers. I guess the rest of the world, too. He represents how bad things have become.

On e-books:

MS: I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book. A book is a book is a book. I know that’s terribly old-fashioned. I’m old, and when I’m gone they’ll probably try to make my books on all these things, but I’m going to fight it like hell. [Pauses] I can’t believe I’ve turned into a typical old man. I can’t believe it. I was young just minutes ago.

On Roald Dahl:

BLVR: It’s the same in Roald Dahl.

MS: I read as little of him as I could get away with. He’s cruel. The cruelty in his books is off-putting. Scary guy. I know he’s very popular. But I loved his wife, who was a great actress and a beautiful woman, and he treated her abominably. What’s nice about this guy?

On being called a "children's illustrator":

MS: I never started out as a children’s book artist. What is a children’s-book artist? A moron! Some ugly fat pip-squick of a person who can’t be bothered to grow up. That’s the way we’re treated in the adult world of publishing. I remember a publishing party a thousand years ago and we were invited, people from the children’s-book department, and someone said, “Oh, you stay up so late!” Stupid man. But that’s the attitude in this country. I’m an illustrator. I have to accept my role. I will never kill myself like Vincent van Gogh. Nor will I paint beautiful water lilies like Monet. I can’t do that. I’m in the idiot role of being a kiddie-book person. It sounds like I’m complaining, but it has no effect on me. I have a good life. I’m strangely content now. Does that come through? Something changed; maybe it was his death. I can’t complain about anything. I’m a lucky buck.

Read the full interview at the Believer.

By Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at

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