More than 500 people gathered in New York City yesterday for a morning of stories, music, and video clips to celebrate the life of artist and children’s book author Maurice Sendak, who died May 7 in Danbury, CT, following complications from a recent stroke.
Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and a longtime Sendak friend, helped organize the invitation-only memorial service at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, which took place just two days after what would have been the author’s 84th birthday.
Speaking to the audience, Michael Di Capua, Sendak’s friend and editor, gave insight into the life of the man, the artist, and the writer who he had met almost 50 years ago.
They both shared a love of Verdi, Mahler, and Mozart. “We were kindred spirits,” says Di Capua, his voice cracking as he eulogized his friend.
Art Spiegelman, the cartoonist and author of Maus (Pantheon, 1991), also used the term “kindred spirit” to describe his relationship with Sendak. The two collaborated on a 1993 comic strip for The New Yorker called “In the Dumps,” in which Spiegelman visits Sendak at his Connecticut estate and the two talk about children and art. Speigelman says he recalls Sendak telling him, “Art, you can’t protect kids.”
Sendak’s U.K. editor, Judy Taylor Hough, who helped bring his work to England, was with Sendak when he suffered his first heart attack in 1967 at the age of 38. While recuperating, Hough gave Sendak a toy mouse that he kept on his desk until his death and which was cremated with him.
Jonathan Weinberg, a family friend of Sendak’s longtime partner Eugene Glynn, shared his personal insights and emotionally recounted how Sendak gave him support when he confided in him at the age of 19 that he was gay. On a lighter note, Weinberg recalled that Sendak had an unusual talent: he could whistle an entire operatic score. Lynn Caponera, Sendak’s longtime assistant, remembers when Sendak and Glynn moved into her Connecticut neighborhood. “They did what all city guys do when they move to the country—they put in a garden and got some dogs.”
Kushner described Sendak as a man who “believed in love,” who was “always adorable,” and who was also “shy and insecure.” During a visit to Sendak in the hospital, Kushner says he told him, “I’m going to die.” The audience laughed when Kushner explained that “for Maurice, that was like saying good morning.” The audience was treated to a reading by actress Catherine Keener of Sendak’s final yet-to-be published book, No-Nose, about a boy whose nose is stolen by his mother.
“He couldn’t disguise the earnestness behind all that grumpiness,” Gregory Maguire says, describing Sendak to SLJ. “It came out in his art and certainly in his friendship.” Maguire, who wrote Wicked (HarperCollins, 1995), shared a 35-year friendship with Sendak, and he, along with Kushner and Caldecott-winning author Brian Selznick, were at the author’s bedside the night before he died. “There was the biggest full moon that night,” Maguire recalls.
“He made me feel important,” says Caldecott-winning illustrator Paul Zelinsky. Sendak, who was Zelinsky’s instructor at Yale University in 1971, is the voice of Glove in the book trailer for Zelinsky’s new book, Z is for Moose (Greenwillow, 2012). Zelinsky says, “I was lucky and privileged to meet him and to be able to stay in touch.”