In late September of 2011, Maurice Sendak spoke one last time with Terry Gross for the NPR program Fresh Air. Ostensibly the interview was to promote Sendak’s final book, Bumble-Ardy, but as the conversation progressed it was clear they just wanted to talk.
The beloved children’s writer and illustrator was 83 years old and in declining health. He was feeling the loss of people close to him who had died in recent years. Inevitably, the discussion turned to issues of mortality. As the conversation built to an emotional crescendo, Sendak laid bare the qualities that made him such a great author: sincerity, depth of feeling, and an insuperable need to connect with people in some elemental way.
By the time it was over there were teary-eyed people in cars all across North America. One listener, Brent Eades, left a message on the NPR Web site: “I happened to be listening to this extraordinary interview while on the early-morning commute from my small Ontario town to Ottawa. I was entirely absorbed in it; and the final couple of minutes left me with tears streaming down my face, which I’m sure nonplussed my fellow commuters.”
The German-born illustrator Christoph Niemann had a similar experience. On Sunday The New York Times Magazine posted this touching animation by Niemann, which tells the story of how the interview affected him. In the film, various creatures from Sendak’s fertile imagination revisit Niemann as he listens in his car, transporting him again to someplace special.
Sendak died on May 8, 2012, less than eight months after his conversation with Gross. Niemann’s film encompasses the last five minutes of the talk. You can listen to the entire conversation at the NPR Web site.