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Editorial: Upstate Over There

sendak_sutton_2011_170x207“Will there ever be another Sendak?” This is the question I posed last week to the 2014 Sendak Fellows, illustrators Nora Krug and Harry Bliss, at Scotch Hill Farm, the late artist’s upstate New York retreat now owned by Sendak’s longtime assistant Lynn Caponera.

I had come to the farm — and it is an actual farm, growing alfalfa and corn, through whose rows Lynn foolhardily let me drive a little truck — to spend a few days with the Fellows, learning something about how they work and offering any useful information I could about children’s books and Sendak’s rich legacy. The Fellowship, administered by Lynn and program director Dona Ann McAdams, is in its fifth year of offering artists five weeks of peace and quiet and occasional communion. Nora and Harry both had a little house of their own and studio space; inspiration was provided by Sendak’s art and books everywhere, along with 150 rolling acres and their denizens, including a blue heron named Keith and Lynn’s dogs, the dignified dowager Maura and the scrappy terrier Pip (who introduced our pup Brownie to the joys of rural life with gusto). Nora was using her time to finish writing a graphic memoir about her family in Germany; Harry was working on a graphic novel adaptation of Ray Negron’s baseball memoir Yankee Miracles.

My “will there ever be another” question was designed not to intimidate the Fellows, nor to imply that Maurice Sendaks come around with any regularity. Rather, I wanted us to think about the conditions that made Sendak’s career possible, and whether those conditions still hold. I think Sendak was lucky to come of age as an artist at a time when illustrators were encouraged to do it all — books written by others as well as themselves, spot art for chapter books, black-and-white as well as color, new editions of old folktales, the quirky as well as the commercial. Lucky, too, to not always have to think of spinoffs and sequels: “I had Ursula [Nordstrom], who would never have let me do another Wild Things. Never. Never,” as Sendak once told me (November/December 2003 Horn Book Magazine). How many illustrators today are able to do almost all of their books with just two editors? (For Sendak, Nordstrom and Michael di Capua.) And while no one has ever published a book intending to lose money, the benchmark for what constitutes a profitable book is now much higher than what it was when publishers could produce a modest print run with modest expectations. Both publisher and illustrator could take more chances. When the sky wasn’t the limit, the sky was the limit.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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.

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