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Sendak Criticizes Decline in Literature

By Linas M. Alsenas, Crimson Staff Writer

Maurice Sendak, the celebrated author of Where the Wild Things Are and the winner of a constellation of children's literature awards, spoke about his inspiration to write and sharply criticized the publishing industry at a speech at Sanders Theatre on Wednesday.

At the age of 72, Sendak told the captivated audience, "I am considered a dinosaur at the publishing house--a grumpy, elitist pain."

He attacked the industry for what he said is the declining physical quality of children's books and a lack of risk-taking by increasingly "monstrous" publishing houses. He characterized the look of new authors' children's books as "jokey, cheap, winking at the grownups."

As part of his address to students in Literature and Arts A-18: "Fairy Tales, Children's Literature and the Culture of Childhood," Sendak offered a personal account of his rise to the top of children's literature.

"I never set out to be a children's writer," he said.

Sendak has written about a dozen books and illustrated close to 100 since 1951. His 1963 work Where the Wild Things Are is one of the best-selling children's books of all time.

When creating his books, Sendak told students that children are not necessarily at the top of his mind.

"Do I think about the children? I'm afraid not. I think about myself," he said.

Despite his many awards, Sendak's books have at times met with controversy. He has been criticized for writing books that are considered too scary or not comforting enough for children.

In response to criticisms about the political content of We Are All in the Dumps and the frontal nudity of a character in In the Night Kitchen, Sendak criticized adults' tendency not to appreciate the interests and passions of children.

By overprotecting children, Sendak said, "we have become dumber and dumber and dumber."

Sendak also talked at length about the authors, poets and musicians who have influenced his own work, including Keats, Dickinson, Shakespeare, Mozart, Shostakovich and Melville.

His stay at Harvard was timed to include visits to the Keats and Dickinson rooms at Houghton Library where he plans to look for inspiration for his current project. The author revealed that he has been working on a book for the past four years, and hopes to have a draft ready by this fall.

In response to a question posed by Professor of German Maria M. Tatar about Sendak's favorite book, the author cited Shakespeare's play, "A Winter's Tale."

"I read it over and over, mystified, thinking, 'How can I steal this?' And I will," he said.

Sendak said his two favorite books that he has written are Outside Over There--his most autobiographical, he explained--and Higglety Pigglety Pop.

Other questions centered on the inspiration for his books.

Sendak said We Are All in the Dumps With Jack and Guy, his latest work, was inspired by a homeless child he saw in a cardboard box on Rodeo Drive and by reports of street children being shot in Rio de Janeiro.

He said Where the Wild Things Are originated as Where the Wild Horses Are, a suggestion from author Ruth Krauss, until Sendak realized that he couldn't draw horses.

"The horses then became...things, and the things became my relatives," he said.

Sendak had been scheduled to visit the class on March 22, but suffered a tendon injury and could not come. Fellow children's author Lois Lowry took his place, and she attended Sendak's appearance Wednesday.

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