I was of course kidding when I characterized the Sendak Fellowship as a reality show, but there are some aspects of it that are similar. Four people whose only things necessarily in common are talent and an interest in creating picture books share a large house for a month. They also share access to an eminence gris down the road. (I’m already thinking of The Magus.)
But the great thing about the Sendak Fellowship is that there is no competition, except maybe around the Monopoly game I spotted in the living room. The fellowship is its own reward: each artist (Sergio Ruzzier, Frann Preston-Gannon, Ali Bahrampour and Denise Saldutti) gets a room and a month to do his or her work, and counsel–if they want it–from Sendak. There are no expectations, and I noticed that each illustrator was working on at least a couple of things, resurrecting old projects and beginning new ones. The house is huge and airy and would be perfect except for the fact that it is in the middle of (a very beautiful) nowhere, next-door to Sendak’s house (“next-door” having a rather more expansive definition than you or I are used to.) The artists were kind enough to share their works-in-progress and, wow, great things are happening. The Fellowship seems to provide three things helpful to getting stuff done: time, room, and peer pressure. Maurice is also at work on a new book; all I can tell you is that it’s very funny.
I’ve known Maurice for thirty years now, and while at eighty-three he is physically fragile (and I noticed at dinner that he, Richard and I are ALL getting deaf) he is still the most vivid raconteur I have ever met. Nobody enacts scandalized outrage better. I don’t envy his biographer, though, as Maurice is completely capable of telling the same allegedly true story five different ways, all equally convincing.
Maurice, his Kids, and I, (along with program director Dona Ann McAdams and Maurice’s longtime assistant Lynn Caponera) spent several hours talking about picture book publishing and reviewing, the balance between art and commerce, and how to make a career out of creating children’s books. Maurice and I had a bit of an argument about whether he was romanticizing the 60s. (Of course he was. That’s what people do with the 60s.) Although we did not completely agree about the ways publishing has changed in the last half century, I was left wondering if a young illustrator starting out today could build the same kind of career that Maurice did in the 1950s and 60s, with a mixture of to-order illustration, pictures for other people’s picture book texts, and wholly original work. He asked me if someone today could do a book like his first (Kenny’s Window) that was not successful, but still be allowed and encouraged to do another (and another). I don’t know the answer to this but maybe some of you do. More pictures tomorrow.