Maurice Sendak’s Emotional Last Interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Animated by Christoph Niemann

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.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Mind and Art of Mau­rice Sendak: A Video Sketch

An Ani­mat­ed Christ­mas Fable by Mau­rice Sendak (1977)

Mau­rice Sendak’s Sur­re­al and Con­tro­ver­sial Sto­ry, In the Night Kitchen

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Comments (6)
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  • Wally Emerson says:

    Turn off the music! Where did this whole idea of the need for a musi­cal “bed” come from? It is an irri­tat­ing dis­trac­tion that can only ful­fill some pro­duc­er’s need in you — try­ing to be Ken Burns or some­thing? I want to lis­ten to the inter­view with­out hav­ing to fil­ter out non-stop music.

  • Craig says:

    @Wally Emer­son: the impact of the back­ground music is your take-away from this? Real­ly?

  • James R Bartlett says:

    I did­n’t notice the music; the con­ver­sa­tion was so beau­ti­ful

  • Cindy Fetch says:

    I loved every­thing about it.

  • John Reynolds says:

    I remem­ber lying on my back in bed, already tired, yet man­ag­ing to stay awake through the entire inter­view nine years ago. It’s just that mov­ing. Sendak is equal parts sen­si­tive and brave. —— I’m hap­py to know that I’m one of many who were touched and inspired to cre­ate. (NPR has a longer clip if you are some­how irri­tat­ed by musi­cal accom­pa­ni­ment.)

  • Wildflower says:

    I love this 💛

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