A Farewell to Beloved Children’s Author (and Atheist) Maurice Sendak

The great Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, died yesterday at the age of 83.

The Illini Secular Student Alliance reminds us of this excerpt from an interview he did with NPR’s Fresh Air in 2003:

“I am not a religious person, nor do I have any regrets. The war took care of that for me. You know, I was brought up strictly kosher, but I — it made no sense to me. It made no sense to me what was happening. So nothing of it means anything to me. Nothing. Except these few little trivial things that are related to being Jewish. … You know who my gods are, who I believe in fervently? Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson — she’s probably the top — Mozart, Shakespeare, Keats. These are wonderful gods who have gotten me through the narrow straits of life.”

It’s sad to see him go, but what a legacy of stories he left behind.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    he was also gay

    • The Godless Monster

       Yes, he was and I’m glad someone pointed this out.

      • The Other Weirdo

         Why?

        • Mihangel apYrs

           because in one obit I read there was no mention of his (dead) partner of 50 years, but a lot about his dog.

          • The Other Weirdo

             Whenever I see  obits, I don’t think they usually mention dead spouses/partners, or even children, unless those people were of note themselves. I could be wrong, though.

            • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

              I’ve never seen an obituary that didn’t include the deceased’s spouse and children. Maybe if it was a short blurb, but any proper obit would mention that the person had been in a 50-year relationship.

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      Oh my! Gay and atheist… well, I guess he’s in for a double whammy of fire and brimstone.

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        AND drawing CHILDREN with NAUGHTY BITS clearly visible in books for CHILDREN!!!

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

       I never knew that.

  • 69ingchipmunks

    Stephen Colbert will feel so sad when he hears this.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Sad day, we lose Sendak, and human rights in NC.

  • Amenhotepstein

    Cue the fundies cry of “Maurice Sendak is burning in Hell!” in 3… 2… 1…

    My response would be: If Maurice Sendak is in Hell, then that’s the place I want to spend eternity!

    • http://www.facebook.com/gaudess Holyhell Kelly

       I already have the deck chairs and vodka ready =)

  • Bob Becker

    Ah…. I’m kind of with “The Other Wierdo”above. Don’t see how or why, particularly, Sendak’s sexual orientation is pertinent just now. Nor, for that matter, is his athism. His death is newsworthy, and the tributes pouring forth are fully deserved because of his writting, his now classic children’s books. So far as I know he never made a great issue in his writings or otherwise of his atheism ( unlike e.g. Hitch). Today’s NYT has a really good obit on him that dwells exclusively on his work and why most people will remember him and i. It won’t be for his atheism or for his being gay. Seems just a tad tacky to use his passing to piggyback other issues on his talent as a children’s author the very day after he died..

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      Tacky? I don’t see what’s wrong with posting a tribute to a fellow atheist. Maurice Sendak wasn’t closeted about his lack of religion. Of course his work is what he is best known for, but there is nothing wrong with mentioning his atheism. In fact, I particularly liked what he had to say about facing death in his NPR interview last year.

      GROSS: Are you at the point where you feel like you’ve outlived a lot of people who you loved?

      SENDAK: Yes. Of course. And since I don’t believe in another world, in another life, that this is it. And when they die they are out of my life. They’re gone forever. Blank. Blank. Blank. And I am not afraid of death. And I begin to – as maybe a good many elderly people do. Who knows?

      When I did “Bumble-ardy” I was so intensely aware of death. Eugene, my friend and my partner, was dying here in the house while I did “Bumble-ardy.” And I did “Bumble-ardy” to save myself. I did not want to die with him. I wanted to live, as any human being does. But there’s no question that the book was affected by what was going on here in the house.

      GROSS: We’ve talked before about how, you know, you’re Jewish but you’re very secular. You don’t believe in God. You don’t…

      SENDAK: No, I don’t.

      GROSS: Yeah. And I think having friends who die, getting older, getting closer toward the end of life tests people’s faith and it also tests people’s atheism. It sounds like your atheism is staying strong.

      (SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

      SENDAK: Is what?

      GROSS: Staying strong.

      SENDAK: Yes. I’m not unhappy about becoming old. I’m not unhappy about what must be. It makes me cry only when I see my friends go before me and life is emptied. I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I still fully expect to see my brother again. And it’s like a dream life. But, you know, there’s something I’m finding out as I’m aging that I am in love with the world.

      And I look right now, as we speak together, out my window in my studio and I see my trees and my beautiful, beautiful maples that are hundreds of years old, they’re beautiful. And you see I can see how beautiful they are. I can take time to see how beautiful they are. It is a blessing to get old. It is a blessing to find the time to do the things, to read the books, to listen to the music.

      • http://www.facebook.com/gaudess Holyhell Kelly

         well said! I like reflecting on atheists who made a great deal of difference in their lives (and gays too) because we do not have enough heroes to look up to.

        • http://twitter.com/luciferadi Adi Rule

          I agree. And when people who subscribe to negative atheist stereotypes learn that someone they already admire was an atheist, it’s a good step towards cracking those stereotypes.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    I used to read “Where the wild things are” to my kids and they loved it.  My parents read that same book to me when I was a kid. 

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    As is the way of all things, he has returned to the universe that “made” him.

    Rest in peace.

  • Sindigo

    Our first is due in a couple of months. I’m taking this sad news as a (long overdue) cue to order “Where the wild things are” for her right now.

  • Midwester

     I have a question (or several) for all of you.  Why are you atheists?  Are you truly atheist, or are you agnostic?   If you found that God existed and loved you, how would you respond?  I would prefer to have a thoughtful response, rather than screed about how all religions are bad, or that most wars are caused by religion… You get the picture.  I am looking for a well reasoned discussion of why you choose atheism.  Any takers?

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      What does this have to do with Maurice Sendak?

      Short answer: I was born an atheist. I never developed a belief in the supernatural. I have never seen any reason to assume that any deities exist, let alone one particular deity from one particular culture. 

      • Midwester

        Anne, it has nothing to do with him. I was just curious. However, you still haven’t answered my questions.

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          I thought I did answer them, but if you’re really curious, I’ll give you the longer version:

          1. I’m an atheist because I see absolutely no evidence that deities exist.

          2. I identify as atheist, not agnostic, although the two are compatible.

          3. Which god? I have no emotional or personal attachment to the idea of deities and I wouldn’t particularly care if they loved me or hated me. It strikes me as a very peculiar notion.

          4. As I mentioned, I was born an atheist, so I didn’t choose atheism. I remain an atheist because I see no evidence that we live in anything other than a purely material world, and it seems obvious to me that all the various gods and goddesses were simply created by human societies.


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