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Rooms of their own

Roger, Maurice, Sergio Ruzzier, Frann Preston-Gannon, Ali Bahrampour, Denise Saldutti, photo by Richard Asch

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.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Thanks for a peak into this world! I love Sendak.

  2. Peek

  3. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Trust me, being able to talk to Sendak about picture books is a peak indeed!

  4. One of my Poydian slips.

  5. I love the knowledge that Mr. Sendak is a raconteur. Some people you just imagine would be wonderful to sit down and listen to, and he’s one of them. Even if I never meet him, I’ll be happy to know he’s just as I imagined!

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  1. […] year, I went to Maurice Sendak’s house to spend a day with the Sendak Fellows, four artists who were given time and studios to work on any project they desired, as well as […]

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