May 08, 2012


Born to be Wild by David Drake for POZ

Children’s illustrator and storyteller Maurice Sendak’s writing is on the wall
When the elevator doors open on the fifth floor of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) 12-story building in downtown Manhattan, the unmistakable Where the Wild Things Are images that greet you—Max steering his ship, a sleepy half-moon strung with stars and, of course, a beast or two—immediately make you forget the long, hot summer on the 11 other floors of this troubled AIDS organization. Since 1951, Maurice Sendak’s cherished drawings have led us to a place in our collective imaginations where, well…the wild things are. Now they also guide us into the Child Life Program room, where Sendak, a longtime GMHC donor who has produced more than 80 books, has created a wall-sized mural of his most celebrated scenario, plus a three-dimensional floor-to-ceiling tree under which dozens of kids meet daily to eat lunch, play games, draw, watch TV or just let loose and, as Sendak’s story goes—do some wild rumpus-ing! Some of the kids have HIV, others have parents who are GMHC clients. All have been affected by the epidemic, which is why GMHC asked Sendak to contribute his most feisty imagery. The result is a visual triumph: an environment that energizes its inhabitants to deal with the difficult realities of their lives.

David Drake: Where the Wild Things Are—one of the top-10 bestselling children’s books of all time—was a source of controversy when it was first published in 1963. Several psychologists saw it as too “dangerous” for young minds—Max being so defiant with his mother.

Maurice Sendak: I’ve been a carbuncle in the children’s book world since I began, practically. Now, at 70, everyone rushes to me and says, “Oh! Your books are classic! Classic!” America is so vile. Just live long enough in this country and you turn into Helen Hayes…or Charlton Heston.

God forbid.

I think I’ll choose Helen.

Good choice.

So now I’m a “classic.” In other words, now I can get away with murder ’cause they don’t know what to do with me. Like a tick on a dog’s ass, they can’t get rid of me until the dog dies!


Personally, I treasured Where The Wild Things Are as a child and also worshipped the kooky movie version several years ago.