An illustrated interview with Maurice Sendak

Here Terry Gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air” briefly interviews the celebrated children’s author and illustrator. The video was illustrated by Christopher Niemann and was featured in the New York Times. I’m putting it up because Sendak discusses his atheism and how it affects his attitudes towards life, getting old, and dealing with the deaths of his friends. It’s very bittersweet and moving, and relevant to the last post about Susan Jacoby’s op-ed.

Sendak died last March at age 83.

“There are so many beautiful things in the world that I have to leave. . . ”

“I cry a lot because I miss people; I cry a lot because they die and I can’t stop them. They leave me. . . and I love them more.”

Do listen.

h/t: Greg Mayer via Andrew Sullivan


  1. mordacious1
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    That was very touching. It interests me how many older atheists that I speak with use many religiously toned platitudes. I guess it was more common in their generation. I myself will use “Bless you” when someone sneezes, which makes people stare at me. Then I make an enormous “sign of the cross” and they laugh.

  2. Ken Pidcock
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I haven’t watched the video, but I remember the interview. Would that everyone who shared their feelings were as honest as Sendak.

  3. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Sendak was one of my favorite authors as a teenager, and I loved touring the Sendak museum as in Philadelphia where I spent my teen years, so this was particularly lovely and heartening to hear. The Schubert is an extraordinarily lovely touch on the part of the New York Times.

    “I’m in love with the world.” This should put to rest stereotypes of smug or heartless atheists, but it won’t.

  4. Sidd
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Sendak’s interview with Colbert is an all-time classic. [Part 1] [Part 2]

    • marycanada FCD
      Posted January 7, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      He was hilarious in it

  5. marycanada FCD
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Very touching video. Contrary to so-called popular opinion, Atheists are human

    • Posted January 9, 2013 at 12:08 am | Permalink

      If Sendak had given a TED talk, and illustrated it himself, it would have looked something like that – only more so.

  6. Duncan
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    That was an emotional sucker-punch. Really touching. I hope I face my losses in such an honest way.

  7. Hempenstein
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I watched for any indication that my father was getting more religious in his last months, but that didn’t happen.

    He had this poem set aside, that had run in a magazine. Clark Clifford read it at Averell Harriman’s funeral, but I think it was popular before that, and it seems nicely non-religious. If of interest to anyone:

    “To Those I Love”
    Isla Paschal Richardson

    If I should ever leave you whom I love

    To go along the Silent Way… grieve not.

    Nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk

    Of me as if I were beside you there.

    (I’d come…I’d come, could I but find a way!

    But would not tears and grief be barriers?)

    And when you hear a song or see a bird

    I loved, please do not let the thought of me

    be sad… For I am loving you just as

    I always have…

    You were so good to me!

    There are so many things I wanted still

    To do…so many things to say to you…

    Remember that I did not fear…It was

    Just leaving you that was so hard to face.

    We cannot see Beyond…But this I know:

    I loved you so…‘twas heaven here with you!

    • Melissa Johnson
      Posted January 7, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for posting this.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted January 7, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

        Glad you liked it. And, it’s easily tailored to a specific person by changing song and/or bird as appropriate.

    • Posted January 7, 2013 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for that. Please allow me to offer up one too, by William Butler Yeats — “When you are Old”.

      “When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
      And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
      And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
      Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

      How many loved your moments of glad grace,
      And loved your beauty with love false or true,
      But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
      And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

      And bending down beside the glowing bars,
      Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
      And paced among the mountains overhead
      And hid his face among a crowd of stars.”

  8. marcusa1971
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    When he said “almost certainly I will go before you do, so I won’t have to miss you” it almost made me cry. To reclaim my masculinity I may have to watch a football game, or perhaps punch a homosexual (a small one of course.)

    • Posted January 9, 2013 at 12:12 am | Permalink

      As a (medium-sized) homosexual, I wonder if you think you could mow the lawn (angrily) instead?

  9. Posted January 7, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    “I cry a lot because I miss people; I cry a lot because they die and I can’t stop them. They leave me, and I can’t stop them.”

    Correction to the last line above, Dr. C. In the interview, Sendak said, “They leave me, and I love them more.”

    Thanks for this post. His words are so wise, so poignant and so beautiful. We’re lucky to be able to hear his simple truth.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 7, 2013 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      I’ll fix that, thanks!

  10. Mateus
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    I’m not crying, it’s face rain.

  11. Strider
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    This is one of the reasons I love your site, Jerry, such a wonderful melange of posts! Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I do take issue with Mr. Sendak, however, on the idea that belief in god and the monstrous ideas of heaven and hell would make death in the midst of life more comforting to anyone.

  12. Yiam Cross
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Why would the death of friends old and not so old test my lack of faith? I can’t understand why anyone with an ounce of sense or a functioning brain cell could possibly entertain the concept of a god and no matter what I encounter in this world makes me doubt that there is not one.

  13. Christopher
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    “I’m in love with the world”…The day certainly wasn’t wasted with THAT line waiting for me when I got home.

  14. marksolock
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  15. sgo
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    Wow, this is absolutely beautiful. I think I’ll be playing this very often.

  16. Posted January 7, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Even religious people fight death as a rule. People would rather bare the ills they have than fly to others they know not of; to paraphrse William Shakespere. When there is faith, there is also a modicum of doubt.

  17. Diane G.
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Permalink


  18. Howard Kornstein
    Posted January 9, 2013 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    When Hitchens died this one particular poem came to mind to me which seemed to sum up both my sense of loss and my atheistic view of it…

    Dirge Without Music


    I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
    So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
    Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.
    With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

    Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
    Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
    A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
    A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

    The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
    They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
    Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
    More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

    Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
    Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
    Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
    I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

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